Natural Treatments For Ear Infections (Acute Otitis Media)
Ear infections are one of the most frequent illnesses of childhood and can cause a lot of pain for little ones. Having remedies on hand and knowing what to do at the start of an ear infection can save a lot of suffering.
Ear Infection Basics
This article covers the treatment of acute otitis media, which is the most common ear infection of childhood. The symptoms include: ear pain, irritability, and fever. Babies and young children may pull at their ears, be restless, irritable or cranky, and feel generally unwell.
Otitis media usually develops as a complication of viral upper respiratory tract infections (colds and flus). It can also be caused by swimming in water infested with bacteria.
Most cases of otitis media are viral in origin, but bacterial otitis media is possible. Bacterial ear infection should be suspected if fluid is leaking from the ear or if it was likely a result of swimming in water contaminated with bacteria.
Ear infections aren’t the only cause of ear pain. Other causes to keep in mind include cavities, sinusitis, tonsillitis, and teeth grinding.
How To Treat An Ear Infection Naturally
Natural treatment is preferable to conventional treatment for most cases of acute otitis media. Natural treatment focuses on healing the infection using internal herbal treatment and on relieving the pain and addressing the infection using external ear drops.
Nature’s Biotic contains antibacterial and antiviral herbs to treat bacterial and viral infections.
Ear Relief And Resolve contains pain relieving herbs (verbascum and arnica) as well as antibacterial and antiviral (garlic and coptis).
If you don’t have Dr. Green Mom products in your medicine cabinet, you can make homemade ear oil by gently warming fresh crushed garlic in olive oil. After straining out the garlic, warm (not hot) oil can be applied to the ear.
If the eardrum is perforated, I don’t recommend putting anything into the ear canal. In these cases, the oil can be rubbed into the skin just behind the ear.
Conventional Treatment For Ear Infections
The conventional recommendation for ear infection treatment is watchful waiting and pain relief using acetaminophen or ibuprofen. This is because most ear infections resolve within 2-7 days with or without treatment. Antibiotics provide minimal to no benefit in most cases.
However, there are some cases in which I would usually recommend antibiotics to my patients:
- In children under two with an infection in both ears.
- When there are indications that the infection is bacterial (pus or fluid leaking from the ear).
- Children who have a history of burst eardrums.*
- Children who do not show significant improvement using natural treatments in 24-48 hours.
*A note about burst eardrums: while painful, a burst eardrum is not usually a serious problem. Holes are usually small and heal completely within a few days or weeks. However, if the eardrum bursts several times or if the hole is large that can present a very real problem. Antibiotics can reduce the risk of eardrum perforation; research shows that 3/100 children who did not take antibiotics had their eardrum burst while 1/100 children who did take antibiotics had their eardrum bust.
When To Call A Doctor For An Ear Infection
Sometimes ear infections need medical attention. Symptoms that indicate emergency care is required include: dizziness, vertigo, sudden hearing loss, redness/swelling/pain behind the ear, or if the child appears very sick with high fever and/or neck stiffness.
Always consult a doctor immediately for infections in babies under 6 months of age, especially if fever is present.
If symptoms don’t improve with natural treatment within 24-48 hours, medical care is needed.
Ear infections are a common childhood illness. Usually they are caused by the same viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections, but they can also be caused by bacteria. Ear infections usually resolve on their own and respond well to natural treatments, but when signs of a bacterial infection are present, antibiotics may be the preferable course of action.
Ear Relief and Resolve plus Nature’s Biotic are the remedies that I most often prescribe for ear infections in my medical practice. At home I always have them on hand in my medicine cabinet so that I’m prepared to treat ear infections as soon as they arise.
Sakulchit, T., & Goldman, R. D. (2017). Antibiotic therapy for children with acute otitis media. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 63(9), 685–687.
InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Middle ear infection: Will antibiotics help relieve symptoms in babies and toddlers? 2008 Jul 3 [Updated 2019 May 9]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279379/
Sarrell, E. M., Mandelberg, A., & Cohen, H. A. (2001). Efficacy of naturopathic extracts in the management of ear pain associated with acute otitis media. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 155(7), 796–799. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.155.7.796Sarrell, E. M., Cohen, H. A., & Kahan, E. (2003). Naturopathic treatment for ear pain in children. Pediatrics, 111(5 Pt 1), e574–e579. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.111.5.e574