Earache at Midnight! What Do You Do?

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April 13, 2005 | 92,916 views

By Colleen Huber, Naturopathyworks

Parents of young children often notice that children's earaches do not follow doctors' office hours. Small children can experience such intense pain in the ears that it wakes them out of deep sleep.

When this happens there are a number of naturopathic treatments that can be used by parents to bring prompt relief.

Apply a Poultice

Application of warmth behind the ear can be used to mobilize the post-auricular lymph chain and vasculature and to draw congestion away from the inflamed area of the middle ear. To do this, heat half of an onion in a toaster oven for a few minutes, until it is warm but not intolerably hot. You could test it by applying to your own ear or inner forearm for several seconds. Next, wrap the onion in cheesecloth or thin dishcloth, and apply the largest side (the cut side, for maximum surface area) to the area just behind the ear.

If the child feels that the poultice is still too hot, have them hold it as close as they can tolerate while it cools. As they move it toward their skin, give them enough pillows to prop their arm comfortably while they hold the poultice.

A variation on this that has also shown quick results is to score with a knife the cut surface of the onion, just making a checkerboard of parallel cuts about one-quarter inch deep. This is to allow the strong juice of the onion (onion as botanical medicine, Allium cepa) to diffuse. Without baking it, you can place the onion directly on the ear.


There are a number of acupuncture points, close to and away from the ear, that provide relief from earaches. You could start on the wrist. From the wrist crease at the back of the hand, measure two of the child's (not your own) thumb widths up the arm, toward the elbow. Pressing this point, you will feel the end of the groove between the two long bones of the forearm. Press and massage this point on both wrists.

One child told me that while I pressed this point, the "owie" went away completely just then. Also press the fleshy mound on the back of the hand where the base of the thumb meets the hand. Press and manipulate this point on both sides.

The points near the ear also help. Find the point on the neck at the bottom of the earlobe. Press and manipulate this point on both sides. Then on the front of the ear there are a series of points along the vertical line where the ear meets the face. If your child tolerates it, press and massage along this line on each side.

Consider the Cause

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, acute ear infection in children, (otherwise known as otitis media), is most commonly caused by viruses,1 yet the standard therapy in pediatric practice remains antibiotics, a useless treatment for viral infections. Another study found no benefit from decongestants, another common treatment.2 A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that many times tympanostomy tubes or ear tubes were placed for inappropriate or equivocal indications.3 It has also been found that these ear tubes did not improve long-term outcomes.4

With a view toward natural treatment, self-limiting viral diseases, such as the majority of ear infections, are treated by supporting the immune system.

Culprits to Ear Infections and Nutritional Interventions

The Long-Term View

The goal for treatment should be to eliminate the susceptibility of the individual to repeated attacks or infections. Parents may wish to consult with a naturopathic physician or other qualified health care provider. Such a doctor can make a thorough and professional evaluation of the child's past medical history, family medical history, environmental challenges, diet, and other factors and identify likely problems and solutions.

Many naturopaths practice homeopathy, which in the hands of an experienced homeopath, can eliminate not only the disease but also the susceptibility to recurrence of the disease. If acupuncture is employed, a qualified professional may determine the most effective and complete point prescription for the patient. Other natural medicine, such as hydrotherapy and cranio-sacral manipulation may also be appropriately employed to rid a child of ear infections.

Colleen Huber, 46, is a wife, mother and student at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Ariz., where she is training to be a naturopathic physician. Her original research on the mechanism of migraines has appeared in Lancet and Headache Quarterly, and was reported in The Washington Post.

Her double blind placebo controlled research in homeopathy has appeared in Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, European Journal of Classical Homeopathy, and Homeopathy Today. Her website Naturopathy Works introduces naturopathic medicine to the layperson and provides references to the abundant medical literature demonstrating that natural medicine does work.

Greatly appreciate the update to my original article on howto treat and prevent ear infections. Colleen does a wonderfuljob of providing some solid solutions. I would highly recommend,though, that you also review myoriginal article, as it is loaded with the pearls I picked upafter personally treating many hundreds of children with this problemover a 20-year period.

The treatment of ear infections in this country is a major problem.I found an astounding number of chronically ill children who wereprescribed antibiotics for recurrent ear infections--to the tuneof around 10 million prescriptions each year for children of allages.

The tragic part of this problem is that almost all were preventableby making simple changes in the child's diet. Keep in mind, thateven with the best diet the child may get an infection, however,this doesn't mean the child needs to be put on antibiotics.

Other Proactive Approaches to PreventEar Infections in Children

If the mother is not breastfeeding, it is likely she knows someonewho is. All that is required for the treatment is about one-halfounce of breast milk, so obtaining that from a friend will workjust as well.

The key point to remember when it comes to ear infections isprevention. Also, by taking these above recommendations you canlessen the likelihood of your child waking up in the middle of thenight with a painful ear infection.

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  1. Heikkinen, New England Journal of Medicine, 1999.
  2. Buchanan, Archives of pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 1999.
  3. Kleinman, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994.
  4. Paradise, New England Journal of Medicine, 2001.