Although ear infections are most common in children, ear infections can occur at any stage of life. There are two types: otitis externa, more commonly known as swimmer’s ear; and otitis media, or an infection of the middle ear, which is most common in children. Swimmer’s ear is caused when water or another substance gets trapped in the ear canal, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Otitis media, or middle ear infections, are usually a result of allergies or a bacterial or viral upper respiratory infection. They occur most often in children because the Eustachian tube, which drains fluid from around the middle ear, is still developing and is more horizontal than vertical, meaning it doesn’t drain efficiently.
Because their Eustachian tubes are still developing, children between the ages of six months and two years are at the highest risk for ear infections. Photo By Boris/Couresty Fotolia.
Ear infections are characterized by painful inflammation, loss of hearing and occasionally sore throats. Ear drops, antibiotics and ear tubes are commonly prescribed treatments for ear infections, but these can be problematic. In addition to wiping out all good bacteria, which can help keep the body healthy, antibiotics are not always useful at treating ear infections. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that children who were given antibiotics for their ear infections fared no differently than children given a placebo. Ear tubes are used to relieve pressure and allow pus to drain, but the tubes themselves can cause damage to the ear.
If you don’t want to rely on conventional treatments, then check out these natural remedies for ear infections.
Ear drops are commonly prescribed to treat ear infections, but you can save money (and go au naturel) by making your own natural ear drops at home. Place two drops of garlic liquid, diluted tea tree oil, St. John’s wort oil or brewed mullein (steep one teaspoon of mullein flowers in a half cup of water) into the infected ear. These plants and oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help fight the infection and lessen the pain. (Do not use this remedy, however, if the ear drum is perforated or if the ear is leaking fluid.)
Instead of purchasing over-the-counter ear drops, make your own using garlic, tea tree oil, mullein and other natural ingredients. Photo By Sorin Popa/Courtesy Fotolia.
Because ear infections are often caused by bacteria, strengthening your immune system can help fight the bacteria and clear up the infection. Your favorite immune boosters will work as well here as they will for a cold. Try garlic, oregano oil, vitamin C, elderberry, Echinacea, mushrooms and whatever herbs and supplements are already in your immune-boosting arsenal.
Taking measures to reduce inflammation can also help heal ear infections. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, can reduce inflammation. Adults should take 3 grams of fish oil daily; ½ to 1 teaspoon of flaxseed is recommended for children (mix this into formula for bottle-fed infants). Watching your diet and investigating for food allergies can also help reduce inflammation. Avoid dairy products and consume lots of whole grains, protein and fresh produce.
• Applying mild heat can help relieve pain caused by ear infections. Try wrapping a hot water bowl in a towel and placing it against the ear.
• Keep additional moisture from entering your ear by placing a cotton ball in your ear while showering or bathing.
• Vinegar’s acidity creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria. Try placing a drop or two of vinegar in your ear. (Again, do not use this natural remedy if your ear drum is perforated. Don’t use this remedy on children either.)