By Dr. Mercola
Earaches originate from a number of different causes. Although potentially painful and frustrating, most are not dangerous. As with most symptoms you experience, it is an indication of something wrong. It's important to also pinpoint the origin of the pain and not just treat the symptom.
More children than adults suffer from earaches. Your child's pediatrician may offer antibiotics or pain medication for an earache; however, research demonstrates that most middle ear infections, while uncomfortable, may resolve spontaneously within a week.1
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2 nor the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)3 recommend using antibiotics immediately to treat ear infections. But, ear infections are not the only reason you or your child may experience an earache.
Before delving into the reasons for earaches and some of the more effective ways to treat them at home, it's helpful to have an overview of how the ear is structured and where pain may be coming from.
Inside Your Ear
Here, a massage technique is demonstrated to help the Eustachian tubes drain and reduce pressure on the middle ear from fluid build-up. Although infections may occur in any of the three parts of your ear, an infection in the inner is the most dangerous to your hearing. Common middle ear infections rarely require medication except when they are severe in young infants.10
When possible avoid using antibiotics or pain medication. Antibiotics can wreak havoc on your intestinal system, destroying your microbiome and increasing your risk of developing other health challenges. For more information about how antibiotics may affect your gut, see my previous article titled, "Many Prescribed Antibiotics Are Unnecessary and Cause Damage." While necessary in some instances, most of the time you may be able to get by using natural antibacterials.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cautiously administering antibiotics for ear infections as they don't always completely kill the bacteria present, making the bacteria left behind more resilient to the antibiotics and more likely to cause chronic ear infections.11
Pain medications create another list of problems for you and your children. While seemingly innocuous and sold frequently over the counter, even taking just a little too much acetaminophen may have severe, even deadly, results. Several of the options available at home listed below may help to reduce your pain and discomfort without the added risk of pain medications.
Reduce Earwax Buildup and Pressure in Your Middle Ear
As you consider these options for treatment at home, remember to never put anything into the ear canal if you think the eardrum may be ruptured or if you know there is a small hole in your eardrum. Fluid or oils will drain through the hole and potentially damage the delicate bones behind the eardrum, leaving you with permanent hearing loss.
If you experience a buildup of wax near your eardrum, it can cause pain and a feeling of fullness in the ear. You may easily remedy the situation at home by using a liquid to soften the wax so it can migrate out, or use an ear irrigation tool to flush out the wax.
Acceptable fluids are saline solution, coconut oil, hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide or olive oil. It may require irrigation of the ear canal with a syringe to remove. However, if done improperly it can damage your eardrum. You should not irrigate your ears if you have diabetes, a tube in the eardrum, if your eardrum is perforated or your immune system is weakened. Removal in these circumstances require the care of an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.
When ear pain is associated with a middle ear infection, there may be an increase in fluid behind the eardrum that triggers the pain. There are several ways to reduce the pressure and thus reduce the pain. Massage techniques can help open the Eustachian tubes and increase the flow of fluid out of the middle ear.
In the same manner, yawning or sucking on hard candy encourages thick fluid to flow down the Eustachian tubes. Sleeping sitting up will also help reduce the pressure on the eardrum, the cause of the pain for an increase in fluid.
Gargling with salt water may help to loosen thick fluid in the Eustachian tube and may help to kill viruses in the back of your throat, reducing the length of a viral infection.12 Gargling with apple cider vinegar will also help if you have an infection from a fungus.13 If you are bottle feeding your baby, it is important they eat in a more upright position to reduce the amount of formula that enters the Eustachian tube.
Reducing Ear Pain and Infection at Home
Hot and cold packs can be used to help reduce pain.14 A cold, damp washcloth held on the area for 20 minutes may help to numb it and reduce the pain, while a warm, wet cloth for 20 minutes may help relax the muscle tension around the ear and improve blood flow. You can also make a hot pack with a cup of salt or rice, warmed in the microwave or stove and placed in a sock. When bearable on the skin, place it over the ear for five to 10 minutes.15
Garlic has natural antimicrobial and pain relieving properties.16 You can eat two to three raw cloves of garlic daily, and make ear drops by cooking two cloves in 2 tablespoons of sesame or mustard oil until it darkens, then strain. When the oil has cooled to the point it isn't too hot on the inside of your wrist, apply one to two drops in the affected ear.
The same can be done with onion juice. Chop a small onion and heat it in the microwave for one to two minutes. Once it has cooled, strain the liquid off and place several drops in one ear. Leave it in for approximately 10 minutes and then turn your head to drain it out. Repeat with the other ear.
Breast milk has natural antibodies that speed healing and reduce swelling, working in both adults and children. Use two to three drops in the affected ear every three to four hours as needed. A few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide into each ear at the start of symptoms of a cold or an earache may also improve symptoms within 24 hours. You can read more about the benefits and why it works in my previous article titled, "Hydrogen Peroxide for Colds and Flu."
Chiropractic adjustments are effective when your ear pain originates from neck and shoulder muscle tension or if you have middle ear fluid. In the first case, a chiropractor may evaluate your posture and give you exercises to reduce a potential problem with imbalanced muscle development in your shoulders and back that trigger the tension. An adjustment may also help open your Eustachian tube so fluid flows more freely out of the middle ear and reduces your pain.