Disclaimer: This post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnosis. Please see your functional medical practitioner for more information about any health conditions.
When ear infections strike, they usually mean intense pain, fever and discomfort for children. Worried parents may take their child to the doctor and leave with a prescription for antibiotics. But are antibiotics the best remedy? Often the answer is a surprising: NO. Do you know most ear infections are viral? Antibiotics do not work on viral infections. Do you know that we are also able to fight bacterial infections on our own? We can! Bacterial infections may take longer to clear up, but it’s possible to heal from a bacterial infection without the use of antibiotics.
I wanted to write this article to help families who are seeking an alternative treatment for their children. I hear about so many children suffering from ear infections and I want to help these families. I am not against antibiotics. In fact I am very grateful they exist if we need them. However, I feel antibiotics are grossly and irresponsibly prescribed by the medical community. Our bodies are capable of tremendous healing if we allow them to do their jobs. I have two children, ages 9 and 6. My children have never taken antibiotics. I don’t say this to boast about their awesome superhero immune powers– my kids get sick like other kids. But when my kids are under the weather we use home remedies instead of pharmaceuticals to support healing with great results. It IS possible!
What are our favorite home remedies you may ask? Before I give you my long list, let’s break down the anatomy of an ear infection.
What is an ear infection?
There are several different types of ear infections. In this article I will focus on the most common type of ear infection for children: the middle ear infection, or otitis media (OM). During a middle ear infection, the Eustachian tubes (they connect the middle ear to the nose and allow fluid to drain) become clogged and infected, either by a virus or bacteria.
What causes ear infections?
Ear infections are most commonly caused by a virus or bacterial infection. Often the ears become infected after a cold virus, when a child has a lot of congestion in the sinuses. Children’s Eustachian tubes are smaller than adults, which can make them more susceptible to clogging. For children who have repeated ear infections, chronic inflammation caused by food sensitivities and allergies may be the cause and your child should be tested (details below). Environmental allergies may also be a factor.
Do you really need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are prescribed for ear infections more than for any other childhood ailment, even though the majority of ear infections will clear up on their own without medication. Antibiotics come with their own set of risks including lowered immune function (antibiotics wipe out the good flora in the digestive tract along with the bad) and side effects like diarrhea, cramping, indigestion, yeast infections and allergies. Frequent use of antibiotics also reduces their effectiveness. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of ear infections. Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, one of the authors of the new guidelines, says 70% of ear infections resolve on their own within 2-3 days and 80% of infections get better on their own within ten days. The key here is giving kids time to heal, something we don’t always feel comfortable doing. The new guidelines encourage doctors (and parents) to use the “wait and see” approach. Even infections with a bulging ear drum and fever may be able to resolve on their own. When antibiotics are used prematurely, some bacteria will survive the medication, making the next infection harder to treat. So the next time your child gets an ear infection, here are some holistic remedies to try.
Holistic remedies for ear infections.
Onion Ear Muff: This is by far my favorite remedy for ear infections. The warmth of the onion soothes the pain almost immediately and the vapors from the onion help to fight the infection. This remedy offers a 2-for-1 punch against ear infections! To make an onion ear muff slice an onion in half and scoop out the inner layers until only the last 2-3 rings remain. Heat the onion in the oven for about 15 minutes at 300 degrees until it is warm and slightly steaming. Wrap the onion in a towel and cup it over the infected ear. Repeat as often as necessary to soothe pain.
Garlic/Mullein Ear Drops: Garlic ear drops are an age old treatment for ear infections. You can find these drops at any health food store. The herbs may help to fight the infection and if you heat the oil it will also soothe the pain. These should not be used if the ear drum has ruptured or if your child has ear tubes. You can also make your own garlic oil, read more here.
Homeopathy: There are several homeopathic remedies for ear infections depending on your child’s symptoms. Belladonna, Chamomile, Kalium Sulphuricum and Pulsatilla are all common remedies. Consult with a naturopath or homeopathic doctor for the correct remedy. I also use this book when deciding what remedy to give my children.
Ear Massage: Helps to encourage draining of the Eustachian tubes. To learn more about ear massage go here.
Acupuncture: Balances meridians in the body and also increases immune function. Pediatric acupuncturists can use gentle pressure instead of needles for little ones.
Increase Intake of Nutrient Dense, Clear Fluids: Make a pot of magical mineral broth for healing. Whenever my kids are sick I immediately put a pot on the stove. Packed full of easy-to-absorb minerals, this healing broth is a powerful, medicinal tool. Use your mineral broth to make a healing vegetable soup. Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fluids help to thin mucus and unclog tubes, so make sure your child drinks lots of clear fluids when sick.
Increase Intake of Nutrient Dense Foods: Keep the focus on easy to digest, power foods like soups made with mineral broth and fresh green smoothies. Keep it simple.
REST: I can’t emphasize enough the important of rest when your child is sick. Rest allows our immune systems to work at optimal levels. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep at night and stays home from school during the day when he/she is sick. This allows your child to heal more quickly and also keeps them from spreading viruses to others.
Let the Fever Do the Work: Fevers mean our body is healing. When you bring a fever down with drugs the body’s natural healing system is impaired and it is harder for your body to heal. This is age old wisdom that is finally getting mainstream attention. When fever strikes, drink fluids, rest, cuddle and let the fever do the work.
Green your Space: Many children with recurring ear infections have environmental allergies. You can help lower inflammation by greening your living space. Use Hepa air filters, non-toxic cleaner and personal care products, non-toxic cookware, etc. To find out more about clean indoor living visit the Environmental Working Group.
Practice Positive Intent: Never doubt the power of the mind to heal the body. If your child is sick, and scared of his symptoms, his body is more likely to experience a stress response and lowered immune function. Let your child know that he is strong and his immune system is working hard to heal him. Keep your child calm and focused on the good work his body is doing in the name of healing! The more your child believes in the body’s ability to heal, the more empowered (and powerful!) he becomes.
Foods to decrease or eliminate during ear infections.
When your child is suffering from an ear infection, you want to feed them in a manner that lowers inflammation and supports immune function. You do not want your child eating inflammatory, mucus-forming foods because these foods will contribute to mucus production in the body—the worst thing for a child with clogged ears!
Foods to eliminate during an ear infection:
Dairy: Dairy is mucus-forming in the body. You want to stay far away from dairy during an ear infection. For kids with recurring ear infections–you might consider removing dairy permanently. If I had a dollar for every child with recurring ear infections who was sensitive to dairy—I’d be a RICH woman. I see it over and over again! Dairy sensitivities are different than dairy allergies and your pediatrician may not know the difference, for more information read this article.
Sugar: Sugar lowers immune function. It is considered an “anti-nutrient” because in order for your body to process sugar, it needs to use up nutrients in your body. It’s best to decrease or eliminate sugar when your child is sick. For more information about sugar and immune function, read this article.
Gluten: How could I write an article about nutrition without mentioning GLUTEN!??!! Gluten is a large protein that is difficult to digest. Gluten is inflammatory and these days, while it’s not genetically modified, it’s hybridized in a way that our bodies have trouble digesting it. When a child is sick, the gut lining becomes more permeable and sensitive. For this reason, gluten is a good thing to remove during times of illness. Also, gluten is a protein MANY people are sensitive to, so for children who have recurring ear infections, try eliminating gluten altogether.
Supplements to consider for healing.
There are some supplements to consider when your child has an ear infection. Below is an extensive list of supplements we have used in the past, however, I suggest working with a holistic health practitioner to develop the correct protocol for your child.
Zinc: Zinc is the number one supplement to use when you need an immune system boost. We are all deficient in this mineral and it is required for immune function. We take liquid zinc sulfate regularly as a family.
Probiotics: It is supremely important to increase your child’s probiotic intake during an ear infection. Make sure you choose a high quality supplement that has a high adherence rate.
Ester C: Ester C is the form of vitamin C I use with my kids. It’s great for boosting immune function and it also contains quercetin to help thin mucous. We use this brand. You may also choose to have your child take quercetin on its own as it can act like a decongestant.
Echinacea and Goldenseal: These herbs support the immune system and are part of our preventative routine during cold and flu season.
Garlic: A natural remedy and immune boosting powerhouse, but kids may not want to eat raw garlic! I have had success chopping garlic up finely and my son swallows it like pills. Best to do with a meal as garlic can be hard on the tummy.
Considerations for recurring ear infections.
If your child has recurring ear infections, they have likely tried several rounds of antibiotics and they may even have ear tubes in place. When the tubes don’t work your doctor may even talk to you about adenoid surgery! These options treat a symptom, NOT the underlying cause (inflammation). Luckily, there are alternatives to consider if your child continues to have ear infections.
1) Make sure your child is well nourished. According to Elizabeth Lipski, PhD CNC, author of Digestive Wellness for Children, deficiencies in the vitamins A, C, E, zinc and essential fatty acids can increase the chance of ear infections.
2) Considering conducting an elimination diet to identify problem foods your child might be sensitive to. This book is a great primer on how a parent can easily do an elimination diet at home and includes lots of yummy recipes.
3) Consider environmental allergies as a possible trigger. Have your child tested and work to clean and green your living space.
What to do if your child takes antibiotics.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our kids may have to take antibiotics. If your child does take antibiotics, make sure you compliment the prescription with a round of probiotics to replenish the good bacteria in the gut and to increase immune function for the future. Also focus on anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense foods and consider immune boosting supplementation when appropriate.
Have you found this article helpful? Do you know someone with recurring ear infections? Please share this with someone who may benefit!
Are you interested in learning more about natural remedies?
Then you might love my ebook, Natural Remedies for Children. This book saves you time and money by detailing easy and safe natural remedies for the 11 most common childhood ailments our kids face today. Learn how to build a holistic medicine kit and build strong immune function, too. Click here to get all the details!
What home remedies do you use for ear infections???
Disclaimer: This post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure or diagnosis. Please see your health care practitioner for more assistance.
Thank you for posting these! I am currently heating an onion to try the onion ear cuff on our 15 mo/old…she woke up this am with goopy eyes and was tough to put down last night. Through much experience with ear infections I knew we were on the brink of a single if not double (due to both eyes being goopy.) She has had about 6-7 in her short life and we have tried most everything. Her older two siblings (7 and 4.5) also suffered from them in their early stages of life as well.
I also have some garlic oil from the last round she had and that worked with pain relief as well.
Stay healthy, Wendy
I hope the onion works for your daughter! My son had an earache last winter and requested the onion every 15 minutes or so, it helped the pain so much. I hope the same goes for your little one. Heal well!
Thank you so much for sharing!! My daughter is 8months and I’m dealing with our first ear infection. The doctors prescribed antibiotics but it is giving her diarrhea and feel like its doing more harm than good. I am going to try your suggestions!!
i am just wondering how one would use oil.of oregano properly for ear infections? i have massaged behind.her ear with the oil. any other ways? is there any ways for inside the ear that i could use? thank you!
Hi Ashley, I would not use oil of oregano on the skin (OUCH!), it is for internal use and is VERY strong. I use it with my son if he has a very intense viral infection and I feel he needs extra support. The flavor is very strong and spicy so we mix it with his fish oil and he still hates it. I have only used it maybe twice with him last winter when he had a pretty strong virus that he was having trouble getting over.
Great article. I often see children in my chiropractic practice that have been diagnosed with ear infections. Chiropractic is concerned with the health of the nervous system(which controls and coordinates all other systems of the body). Children benefit greatly with chiropractic care experiencing immunity boosts. Check out my website http://www.greenbriarchiro.com and my blog http://www.drdarnitahenry.wordpress.com for more information about children and chiropractic.
Thanks for posting. As a parent with a 5yr old with a child who has had recurring ear infections this gave me a couple of new tips to add to my arsenal. For us the IgG testing was a light bulb moment and uncovered something we never would have guessed she was sensitive to. Eliminating this, (eggs in her case), has shown a huge improvement. My other suggestion would be to add chiropractic adjustments into the mix for anyone else out there looking for things that help. Torque Release Technique is a great modality for children and is very effective.
This is wonderful advice Jade, thanks so much for sharing.
I have four kids, all proned to many ear infections. Someone asked about drops and My first line if defense is usually a couple onion drops in the ear. You just cut onion in half, use the back side of a spoon to scrape and get some juice out and into a bowl. Then use a dropper and make sure to only get the juice, no onion flakes! Place a couple drops in each ear and have your little one rest on their side for 10-20 min, then switch ears if needed. It works almost instantly in most cases. The only scary part is , if there is a tear in the eardrum this will be very very painful. I have used it on myself as well with great success… You WILL smell like onion though! Now that I have read about the onion ear muff I will probably try that first as I like the idea of not using drops. There is lot a of natural do it yourself drops for ear infections out there that can be found by googling. I like all of these suggestions as they seem less invasive, thanks so much for sharing!
While these remedies sound wonderful, and would probably help immensely if you had the time to administer them regularly and properly, I feel the need to say that not everyone has the freedom and flexibility to stay home with kids for 2-10 days every time they end up with an ear infection. Many parents both work full time and staying home the requisite 1 day following illness/fever at childcare is taxing enough. Also, my daughter has had her eardrum rupture two times before she was even a year old due to not manifesting with fever during severe ear infections, and I just don’t feel like I can forgo the known cure of antibiotics with something that may or may not work fast enough to avoid a subsequent rupture. I will study this list though to see if we can take some of the cures and administer them along with antibiotics to perhaps speed healing and reduce recurrence. Thanks for posting.
I tried every single one of these with my son. Nothing worked. It started when he was 4m old. I also did chiropractor, bodytalk, cranialsacral and nothing! I was nursing him exclusively. I gave up my raw dairy. I never eat gluten. We eat soups all week long, fclo, air purifiers etc.. By the time he was 14m he had 6 ruptures. I had no sleep for an entire year. It was then I looked in his ears and seen what looked like mold. I told my naturalpath, ENT, and doctor what I saw and they all blew it off. Three more ruptures in 2.5 months. Again, I looked in his ears and seen mold again. Instead of listening to the dr.’s about it I decided to treat it with rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar. Within 1 day his ears were better. It’s been almost 5m and no infections or ruptures. However, I do still have to put the solution in his ears every night or within a week they start getting sore again. I’m hoping once we move into a different house in a couple months, everything will clear up and I won’t need the drops anymore.
Oh my gosh Brandy what a story! I am so happy you kept searching for the right answer for your son. What a super hero you are!!!!
This is exactly what I’ve been looking for … I just always felt in my heart that taking over the counter drugs just aren’t right for the body. Iv’e had a ear ache for more then 7 days and was taking so many pills and liquid that were making me feel even worse. The onions made my ears feel no pain at all no store bought drug can even relate to this thank you so much your like a remedy lady lol !
One of the very best books you can get is : How To Raise A Healthy Child…..In Spite of Your Doctor by Robert S. Mendelsohn, MD. Excellent book by a great doctor whose focus was prevention and treating alternatively and holistically. ISBN 0-345-34276-3
It may be hard to get…..The AMA and FDA were not happy with him!
Seriously,…..Most everything you need and want to know in one book…..copyright was 1984.
I am an adult and had a very bad infection on my outer ear and in my middle ear. Local doc prescribed antibiotic. Took it but after 72 hours there was no improvement. Called the office and all the doc did was to call another antibiotic in to my pharmacy.
So I went to an ENT specialist who, guess what, prescribed a stronger antibiotic AND steroids, which completely messed my system up. The infection lessened but once the steroids were finished the infection came roaring back.
So much for our medical profession. Just keep throwing antibiotics at the problem.
So I resorted to homeopathic remedies. Cut a bit of onion into pieces, heated those on the stove in a stainless steel pot (I don’t have a microwave), wrapped them in a cloth and pressed to my ear until it cooled.
I could actually feel immediate relief with the onion pack, but if you are administering it to a child do be careful that it’s not too hot.
I also inserted mullein and garlic drops, just 2 drops, warmed a bit, into the ear several times a day.
After a few days of this my ear seems fine.