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How to Treat an Ear Infection Effectively

garlic for ear infection

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  • People with ear infections must avoid antibiotics, as they can lead to damages to your intestinal system, disrupt your body’s microbiome and raise your risk for health problems
  • Instead of putting yourself in harm’s way, try these natural remedies that may combat ear infections

Most of the time, middle ear infections don't require medicines, except for severe cases among young infants.1 While ear infection-caused pain may develop suddenly, it doesn't last long, and some middle ear infections may go away on their own in two to three days.2

Before recommending ear infection treatments for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) emphasizes that a 48- to 72-hour period of “watchful waiting” or initial observation should be carried out to see if the infection can resolve without antibiotic treatment.3

Meanwhile, for patients aged 6 months to 2 years old, doctors can recommend observation if an uncertain middle ear infection diagnosis appears, and if it’s determined that the middle ear infection isn’t severe. Children older than 2 years old may also be observed if they exhibit either non-severe symptoms or an uncertain ear infection diagnosis.4,5

Should Ear Infection Patients Use Antibiotics and Pain Killers?

People with ear infections should avoid antibiotics, as they may damage to your intestinal system, disrupt your body’s microbiome and raise your risk for health problems. Plus, these medicines do not always completely kill the bacteria in the ear. Bacteria left behind can become more resistant to the medicines and even cause chronic ear infections.6

On the other hand, pain medications, especially those sold over the counter, may result in health problems. For example, taking more than the recommended dosage of acetaminophen, a known pain medication, may:

  • Reduce your ability to spot errors and increase your risk for committing mistakes
  • Decrease pain of social rejection7
  • Trigger a “dulling” effect on both negative and positive emotions
  • Cause poisoning (acetaminophen is the leading cause for calls to Poison Control Centers in the U.S.) and liver failure (it accounts for nearly half of all acute liver failure cases among Americans)8
  • Trigger an overdose and lead to death

Home Remedies for Ear Infections

Instead of putting yourself in harm’s way, try these natural remedies that may combat ear infections:

GarlicThis vegetable contains natural antimicrobial and pain-relieving properties.9 If you have an ear infection, you can eat two to three raw garlic cloves daily, or try making garlic ear drops that may assist in relieving ear infection pain. Crush a clove of fresh raw garlic and dissolve it in high-quality olive oil. Put a few drops of the oil in your ear canal, as long as the ear drum isn’t perforated.

Breast milk — Breast milk contains natural antibodies that may assist in speeding up healing, decreasing swelling and clearing the infection. It’s also safer to use and less expensive compared to antibiotics. Every three to four hours, put two to three drops of breast milk in the ear canal.

Coconut oil You can place a few drops of coconut oil into the ear canal, as the oil’s antiviral and antimicrobial properties can help combat the agent responsible for the infection. If the oil has solidified, liquefy it by putting a small amount into a shot glass or small container, and place the container into a cup of hot water.

OnionA warm onion poultice applied behind the ear can be helpful in moving the post-auricular lymph chain and vasculature, and assist in moving congestion away from the inflamed area in the middle ear.

To make an onion poultice, heat half an onion in a toaster oven for a few minutes, until it’s warm but not intolerably hot. Check the temperature by applying the onion to your own ear or inner forearm for several seconds. Once the onion is ready, wrap it in a cheesecloth or thin dishcloth. Apply the largest side or the cut side to the area behind the ear.

You can also utilize onion juice to address an ear infection. Chop a small onion and heat in a microwave for one to two minutes. Once the onion has cooled, strain the liquid and place a few drops in one ear. Leave the onion juice inside the ear for around 10 minutes and then turn your head to drain the liquid out. Repeat the procedure with the other ear.

Another remedy that may help address an ear infection is hydrogen peroxide. If you experience earache or painful ear infection symptoms, you may place a few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide into each ear to help ease the symptoms.

Before trying any of these natural remedies, consult your doctor so you may know how to utilize these treatments properly and avoid side effects. More importantly, never put substances in the ear canal if you suspect that your eardrum is either ruptured or contains a small hole. The fluids or substances can drain through the hole, damage delicate bones behind the eardrum and possibly lead to permanent hearing loss.

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Other Treatment Methods to Consider if You Have an Ear Infection

You can also consider these other treatment protocols, which don’t involve taking harmful antibiotics or pain medications, to help address ear infections:

  • Massage techniques or yawning — These assist in opening Eustachian tubes and promoting the flow of fluid outward from the middle ear.
  • Sleeping sitting up — This can help decrease pressure on the eardrum, where most pain occurs because of a fluid buildup.10
  • Gargling with salt water or apple cider vinegar (ACV) — Gargling with salt water may assist in loosening up the thick fluid in the Eustachian tube and eliminating viruses residing in the back of your throat. This may shorten the duration of a viral infection in your body.11 Meanwhile, gargling with ACV can help people with infections triggered by a fungus.12
  • Hot or cold packs — Both hot and ice cold packs may be utilized to help combat ear pain, and is safe for both children and adults. You can try placing an ice pack over the ear first, and then switching to a warm compress after 20 minutes, or vice versa.13 If you prefer to use only one item, you may do so.14

You can also consult a chiropractor if you suspect you have an ear infection. Many (but not all) chiropractors have been trained in facilitating adjustments that can help open up the Eustachian tube, permit it to properly drain, alleviate pressure buildup and promote an environment that can prompt the infection to leave the body.

Watchful Waiting for Ear Infections

Apart from the short watchful waiting period mentioned above, there’s another form of watchful waiting doctors can utilize. In this situation, a child is usually monitored for the first three months. Usually, otitis media with effusion (OME) goes away even without treatment.

After this period, patients with OME cases lasting longer than three months may be required to undergo a hearing test. Interventions may not be necessary, and the doctor can just reevaluate the child at periodic intervals to see if they are at risk for hearing loss. However, even if some infections occur for more than three months, they typically resolve on their own without triggering long-term language or development effects.15

How to Determine if Surgery Will Be Needed

Surgeries for ear infections are determined on a case-to-case basis. An ear tube insertion can be suggested when there’s fluid buildup behind a child’s eardrum that fails to go away after three months or more. While most children don’t experience long-term damage toward their hearing or speaking abilities if the fluid remains for months, there’s still risk of hearing loss. Children with OME that lasts for more than three months may only be considered for surgery if:

  • Infection is present in one or both ears for at least three months
  • Hearing difficulties and OME develop in both ears for at least three months
  • Patient experiences indicators of persistent OME
  • There’s a higher risk for developmental problems linked to conditions like Down syndrome, autism or cleft palate

A tympanostomy or a procedure involving insertion tubes into the eardrum is often the first choice of surgery for ear infections. An adenoidectomy (adenoid/s removal) and myringotomy (fluid removal), whether with tube insertion or not, can be advised too.

Take note, however, that a tympanostomy alone isn’t advised to address cases of OME, since around 20 to 50 percent of children who do so may have OME relapse and require more procedures. Meanwhile, an adenoidectomy for addressing OME isn’t suggested as an initial procedure unless another condition like chronic sinusitis, nasal obstruction or chronic adenoiditis, is present.16


Ear Infection: An Introduction

What Is an Ear Infection?

Ear Infection Symptoms

Ear Infection Causes

Types of Ear Infection

Ear Infection in Babies and Children

Are Ear Infections Contagious?

Ear Infection Treatment

Essential Oils for Ear Infection

Ear Infection Prevention

Ear Infection FAQ

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