Ear infections are almost as bad as sinus infections, don’t you think? While adults are generally able to recognize the problem, infants and kids are often unable to tolerate the pain or even tell you what hurts.
Unfortunately, small kids get ear infections much more often than adults due to anatomical reasons. (1) If your little one is losing sleep and smiles because of an ear infection, knowing a little about this condition may help you help your child.
- Causes of an Ear Infection
- Symptoms of an Ear Infection
- How to Prevent an Ear Infection
- Home Treatment for an Ear Infection
- Method 1: Use Garlic
- Method 2: Use a Warm Compress
- Method 3: Use Olive Oil
- Method 4: Use Onion
- Tips to keep in mind
Causes of an Ear Infection
- Bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes of ear infections. In fact, it often occurs as a secondary infection, resulting from an upper respiratory infection.
- The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the throat and allows the fluids normally secreted by the ear to flow into the throat. Nasal congestion and swelling block the eustachian tube, causing the fluid to collect. This creates a warm, moist environment that’s favorable for the breeding of pathogens. (4)
- While adults are also susceptible to ear infections, small kids up to the age of 2 years are more vulnerable as their immune systems are not well developed. The eustachian tubes of small children are angled less steeply, resulting in inefficient fluid drainage. The tubes in infants are also short, which allows the infection from the throat to easily travel up to the ear. (1)
- In adults and older kids, swimmer’s ear is the most common cause of ear infections. In such cases, water gets trapped in the ear canal due to earwax buildup, creating a bacteria-friendly environment.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
- In adults, common symptoms of an ear infection are an earache, diminished hearing and fluid drainage. Fluid drainage may include clear fluid, pus or blood, depending on the severity of the infection.
- Infants often experience difficulty sleeping due to the earache. Excessive crying, irritability, vomiting, loss of appetite and balance, a fever above 100° F and drainage of fluids or blood from the ear are some other symptoms that often indicate an ear infection in small kids. Difficulty responding to sounds can indicate difficulty in hearing in infants.
How to Prevent an Ear Infection
- Avoid smoking to reduce your chances of getting an ear infection. Smoking should be avoided near infants and small kids to make them less prone to ear infections. Lingering tobacco fumes on clothes and hair can also affect the child. (2)
- Breastfed infants have better immunity against most infections, including ear infections.
- Wean your child off the pacifier after 6 months of age, as using a pacifier makes your child more susceptible to ear infections. (2)
- Make sure that your child is not lying down while bottle-feeding, as it can lead to accumulation of fluids in the eustachian tubes that can cause ear infections.
- Maintain hygiene when an infection is going around.
Home Treatment for an Ear Infection
While infants should be taken to a pediatrician for proper treatment, remedies like a warm compress can be used to provide relief from the symptoms. Natural products may also be helpful in soothing symptoms of ear infections like pain and inflammation.
Instead of piling on antibiotics right off the bat, your initial course of action should be to alleviate discomfort and let the body heal. Nature offers its own set of antibiotics that you can use to help your body fight the infection. However, if the symptoms do not subside within 1-2 weeks, consult the doctor.
Here are four simple home remedies that will come in quite handy in your bid to get rid of that ear infection.
Method 1: Use Garlic
Fresh raw garlic is an extremely good source of allicin, which gives this superfood its strong antiviral and antibiotic properties. Garlic is also a natural source of quercetin, an antihistamine.
Simply cut a small tube or plug from a fresh garlic clove, wrap it in a thin tissue and place at the entrance of the ear. You don’t have to push it in or stuff your ear with it, just place it at the ear opening overnight.
Another great way to use garlic for ear infections is to use warm oil infused with garlic.
A. Garlic and Mullein Oil
Mullein oil has long been used for treating a variety of conditions from bruises and mild burns to infections like colds and the flu. Herbal medications using garlic and mullein oil have been used to manage ear pain. (3)
But it’s most commonly associated with the treatment of earaches and ear infections. It has strong antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
There are two types of mullein oil you can use – infused mullein oil and mullein essential oil. The former is made by infusing dried mullein flowers into base oil (usually olive oil), while the latter is made by steam distillation of flowers, leaves, and stems of the plant.
Things you’ll need:
- Garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (antibiotic and antihistamine properties) – 7 or 8
- Mullein oil (antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties) – 2 tablespoons
Step 1. Combine garlic and mullein oil
- Put 7 or 8 chopped garlic cloves in a microwave-safe bowl.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of mullein oil into it.
Step 2. Heat the garlic and oil
- Heat the mix in a microwave for 30 to 60 seconds.
- When it’s done, let the oil cool down considerably and use it while it’s still pleasantly warm.
Step 3. Store it in a jar and use regularly
- Pour the oil and garlic into a jar for convenient storage.
- Use a sterile dropper to place 2 drops of the oil into both the ears every 4 hours.
- Continue the remedy for a few weeks, until the symptoms completely subside. You may start noticing improvements after a couple of days.
B. Garlic and Olive Oil
Garlic-infused olive oil is also a good remedy. While garlic helps fight the infection and relieve the earache, olive oil helps soothe the inflamed ears.
The latter also provides lubrication in the ear, clearing up the blockage in the eustachian tube and allowing the accumulated fluid to drain.
Things you’ll need:
- Garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (antibiotic and antihistamine properties) – 7 or 8
- Olive oil (lubricates and soothes inflamed ear) – 2 tablespoons
Step 1. Set up a double boiler
- Set up a double boiler. If you don’t have one, fashion a makeshift double boiler with a pan and a heat-resistant bowl.
- Fill one-quarter of a pan with water and put it over the heat.
- Place the heat-resistant bowl into the pan. The bowl should be large enough so that the water doesn’t get into the bowl.
Step 2. Cook the garlic and olive oil in it
- Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the heat-resistant bowl.
- Add 7 or 8 cloves of chopped garlic to it.
- Turn the heat down and let the mixture cook for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the oil from heat and let it cool down.
Step 3. Store the oil in a jar for convenient use
- Pour the garlic-infused oil into a convenient jar.
- Place 2 drops of the infused oil into both ears every 4 hours with a sterile dropper.
- You can use warm (not hot!) oil for faster relief or just use the oil at room temperature.
- You’ll experience speedy relief from pain and inflammation in just a couple of days. Complete recovery may take a few weeks.
Method 2: Use a Warm Compress
Sometimes it’s better to let the body deal with infections on its own without bombarding it with antibiotics. Meanwhile, you can use a warm compress to get some relief from the earache and be a little more comfortable.
A. Salt Compress
Using salt is an easy way to make a hot compress. Salt retains heat well, and the lingering warmth soothes the inflamed ear and alleviates pain.
In a pinch, table salt will do just fine, but using sea salt provides added benefits. The minerals present in sea salt have healing properties.
Step 1. Make a warm salt compress
- Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of sea salt in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You can also do this in a double boiler or a skillet. When heating salt in a skillet, you’ll need to be careful so as not to burn it.
- Carefully put the hot salt in a thin towel and make a bundle.
- Secure the bundle with a knot or rubber band.
Step 2. Use the salt compress to soothe the earache
- Test the temperature before placing the warm salt pack on your ear to be sure it’s not too hot.
- Use this remedy 2 or 3 times a day or whenever you feel pain in your ear.
- Continue until your earache completely subsides, which will depend upon the severity of the infection.
B. Rice Heating Pad
A rice heating pad made with an old sock is another way to soothe earaches due to an ear infection. You can use any old sock, just make sure that its fabric is natural and microwavable. You can also sew a rice heating pad for a permanent solution to tackle different body pains.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply a warm rice heating pad to soothe the earache
- Heat the rice heating pad in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Test its temperature before placing it over your ear.
- You may need to continue this remedy until your ear infection completely goes away.
Method 3: Use Olive Oil
Olive oil can provide great relief from earaches that stem from ear infections. If wax buildup is causing blockage in the eustachian tubes, olive oil can help clear that up by lubricating the ear canal. Warm olive oil also helps soothe the inflamed ears. (5)
Single-Step Treatment: Warm the olive oil and use it to treat the ear infection
- Place some olive oil into the microwave to warm it slightly.
- Administer 2 or 3 drops of warm olive oil into each ear every 4 to 5 hours.
- Make sure the oil is warm and not hot.
- Repeat twice a day, especially before going to bed at night to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Method 4: Use Onion
There is no scientific explanation for this, but this remedy has proved to be effective for many. (6) Like garlic, onions contain allicin that is the source of their strong antibiotic properties.
This makes them beneficial against minor infections like ear infections. The flavonoid quercetin present in onions gives it anti-inflammatory properties. There is even more quercetin in onions than in garlic.
You can administer the drops of fresh onion juice into the infected ear, but using a hot onion poultice has an added benefit. The warmth helps to ease the pain and onion vapors are no less effective than fresh onion juice.
Step 1. Heat half of the onion
- Cut an onion in half.
- Heat one half in the microwave for 30 seconds. You can also heat it in the oven for 15 minutes at 300° F.
Step 2. Place the hot onion compress over your ear
- Carefully put the hot onion into a thin towel and make a bundle.
- Place the onion compress over your ear, making sure that it’s bearably hot.
- Keep it in place until the onion cools down.
- Repeat 3 or 4 times a day until the symptoms completely subside. This may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for different individuals.
Tips to keep in mind
- If you’re using mullein essential oil, you’ll need to dilute it in any base oil, preferably olive oil, before using it to make garlic mullein oil.
- You can also use sesame oil in place of olive oil.
- All the remedies should be administered into both ears, as ear infections tend to spread from one ear to the other.
- You can also put in a few drops of essential oils when making a rice heating pad. Eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, and tea tree oil are some good options.
- Breast milk, which is a great pink eye remedy, can also be used to treat ear infections in babies.
- Middle ear infection: Overview. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279381/. Published December 1, 2016.
- Preventing middle ear infections. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279382/. Published December 1, 2016.
- Marom T, Marchisio P, Tamir SO, Torretta S, Gavriel H, Esposito S. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatment Options for Otitis Media: A Systematic Review. Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753897/. Published February 2016.
- Ear infection - acute: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000638.htm.
- Clegg AJ. The safety and effectiveness of different methods of earwax removal: a systematic review and economic evaluation. NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme: Executive Summaries. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56782/.
- Treatment for acute middle ear infections. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279380/. Published December 1, 2016.
Summary of How to Get Rid of an Ear Infection
Download this infographic.