If you have ever had small children, then you've probably lived through at least one earache or ear infection. In fact, the US National Library of Medicine reports that 75 percent of children will experience at least one ear infection by age 3 years. Not that these ear conditions are limited to the very young; they can affect people of any age, but kids are the most vulnerable.
Ear infections and earaches often go hand in hand, because infections are the most common cause of earache. The infection typically affects the middle ear, blocking the tubes inside the ears and affecting hearing. This condition is known as otitis media and can be quite distressful, especially for very young children. Symptoms include earache, tugging at the affected ear, crying more than usual, fluid draining from the ear, sleeping difficulties, and hearing and balance problems.
Earaches also may be caused by other factors, such as water trapped in the ear, air pressure changes, a toothache, sinusitis, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. You should uncover the cause of the earache before treating it yourself.
Fortunately, earaches and ear infections can go away on their own. Antibiotics are often prescribed for earaches and ear infections, but they are often unnecessary. In fact, only severe cases that are associated with a bacterial infection should be considered for such treatment. As a general rule, if your child has a high fever or has had a fever for longer than a day, you should seek immediate medical attention.
9 natural remedies for earaches and ear infections
Natural remedies generally can manage and even eliminate the symptoms. Keep the following solutions in mind in case you or a loved one experience an ear infection and earache.
Warm and cold compresses
Use of warm and/or cold compresses, in the form of a heating pad, hot water bottle, damp washcloth, or ice pack, can be effective and safe for children and adults. Place the cold or warm compress against the ear and allow it to work for up to 10 minutes. You can then switch to the opposite temperature compress or reapply the same one. Treat the affected ear for 30 to 40 minutes.
Three oils are commonly used to help with earaches and ear infections. In all cases, the oil should be warmed to no greater than body temperature or you can burn the eardrum.
- Olive oil for earache or infection: Place a few drops of warmed oil in the affected ear canal. Although there is no scientific evidence that olive oil is effective, anecdotal reports are positive, and it is safe for children. The oil may help break up accumulated wax.
- Garlic oil for earache or infection: Garlic has antibiotic and pain-relieving properties. Cook two or three cloves in two tablespoons of sesame seed oil until they are soft and brown. Strain the mixture and apply one or two drops into the affected ear canal. You also can eat several cloves daily to help prevent ear infections.
- Tea tree oil for an earache or ear infection: This oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Because some people are overly sensitive to undiluted tea tree oil, add one or two drops of olive or sesame seed oil before applying to the ear.
Other Natural Ways to Relieve Earaches and Ear Infections
Onions. Heat a peeled onion, extract some of the liquid and apply several drops of the juice to the affected ear.
Chiropractic treatment. Although the reasons are not fully understood, chiropractic treatment has been shown to provide relief from earache. An early study (1996) of 40 children age 5 years and younger found that nearly all of the kids improved and 43 percent of them were better after only one or two treatments. Another report in a Canadian journal in 2011 noted ear pain relief following chiropractic treatment among four patients.
Sleep positions. Sometimes the way we sleep can aggravate ear infections and earaches. To help an affected ear drain better, sleep with the ear raised rather than facing down toward the pillow. You also may want to sleep with your head elevated, which helps the ear drain better.
Neck exercise. If your earache is caused by pressure in the ear canal, you may get relief by doing a simple neck exercise.
- Sit straight up, facing forward, and keep both feet flat on the ground.
- Gently rotate your neck and head to the right until your head is parallel with your shoulder. Hold for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Gently rotate your head to the left shoulder until your head is parallel with your shoulder and hold for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Gently bring your head back to the starting position.
- Slowly raise your shoulders high, as if you were trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. Hold for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Gently lower your shoulders.
- Repeat this exercise many times throughout the day; say, every hour.
Hydrogen peroxide. Place several drops of hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear and let it stay for several minutes. Then let it drain into a sink. Rinse the ear with clean, distilled water and allow the water to drain into a sink.
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