NATURAL healing

Ease ear infections naturally

| May/June 2001

Ear infections most often begin in the eustachian tube, a slender tube that runs from the middle ear to the throat. This tube maintains air pressure and drains fluid from the ear, but it also offers an easy route for a throat infection to move into the ear. A middle ear infection is called otitis media, which means inflammation of the middle ear. Otitis media can cause fever and swollen lymph glands under the ear. Some ear infections also produce coughing and a runny nose. Serious, chronic infections can result in impaired hearing.

An ear infection is often a baby’s first significant illness, although it’s usually not easy to recognize until the child becomes irritable from the discomfort, develops a high fever, or begins tugging at his or her ear. Because the eustachian tube is shorter in children, bacteria have a shorter route to travel. Ear infections are one of the most common childhood diseases—about one-third of all pediatrician visits by children younger than six years old are for ear infections. Swelling can compound the problem by inhibiting drainage. If chronic infections persist, small draining tubes may be inserted into a child’s ears.

Herbal ear treatments

Several infused herbal ear oils are available. Mullein flower (Verbascum spp.) and garlic (Allium sativum) oils reduce inflammation, stop pain, and kill infection. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) or calendula (Calendula officinalis) oils help further decrease inflammation. To use herbal ear oils, place a couple of drops into the ear. Treat both ears, even if only one seems infected, to protect the well ear from infection. Be careful not to transfer the infection by touching the dropper to an infected ear.

Natural remedies are often very effective in treating ear infections. However, if the infection does not improve by the next day or so, consider a more orthodox approach.

When ear drops are not appropriate due to serious ear problems (if the eardrum is perforated or something is lodged inside the ear, for example) you can still safely use a homemade oil rub or poultice externally (see “External ear remedies” at left). These treatments are also useful along with eardrops when a persistent infection calls for double treatment.

The food connection

Researchers at Georgetown University found that most children with chronic ear infections also had food allergies. The earaches usually cleared up when offending foods were eliminated from the diet. If the children started eating those foods again, their ear problems flared up. The first step is to experiment by not feeding your child foods likely to cause allergic reactions, such as milk, soy, and wheat products. If you’re a nursing mom whose baby suffers from ear infections, try changing your diet. La Leche League, an international breastfeeding-support organization, recommends that nursing mothers avoid chocolate, hot spices, peanuts, sugar, and foods high in sulfur, such as vegetables in the cabbage family.

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