If your little one has ever had an ear infection, you know how miserable it can be. Pumpkin, our four-year-old, just had her very first ear infection a few days ago. It was actually pretty scary at first, because she woke up with a moderate fever that suddenly spiked to just under 103 degrees, but she had no other symptoms for hours! I kept asking her if anything hurt and she kept saying “no”. There wasn’t any ear pain at all until late in the day. Since I didn’t know what to treat, I made her some herbal iced tea to sip and we just waited for something to happen. Not a good way to spend your time! Once the ear pain hit, I finally knew what we were dealing with and I got busy consulting my most trusted herbal information sources. First off, here’s what we DIDN’T do.
NO Fever Reducers
We parents have all been brainwashed into thinking that a fever must be “controlled”, but reducing a fever is one of the worst things we can do! God created our bodies with a complex and effective immune system. Messing with the first line of defense, a fever, can make an easy-to-fight-off infection become something requiring toxic medications. Learn more about why we aren’t afraid of fevers, why we think they are actually a *good* thing and why Tylenol and Motrin/Advil aren’t as safe as we used to think.
Many pediatricians hand out antibiotics like candy (come to think of it, they shouldn’t be handing out candy so freely, either! 😉 ). If you were raised on antibiotics, it probably seems like I’m over-reacting, but antibiotics should not be administered unless they are absolutely necessary. When it comes to childhood illnesses, including ear infections, they are almost never needed. My post on antibiotics will be coming in the next week or two.
Did you know that ear infections can be viral? Antibiotics are completely ineffective against a virus, though they are often prescribed anyways. Even worse, almost all ear infections will clear up on their own, even if they are bacterial! Out of 240 confirmed ear infections, only 7 (that’s just 3%) didn’t clear up on their own in four days or less. Did you catch that?! That means 97% of ear infections will clear up without antibiotics! So, the wait-and-see approach would avoid 97% of unnecessary antibiotics. The other 3% *might* be possible to treat with home remedies…
Reduce Pain and Speed Healing
I know that you’re cringing, right now. “Wait-and-see?! I can’t just sit here and watch my baby suffer for FOUR DAYS!” Deep breath. I’ve got you covered! First of all, it’s very unlikely that the pain will really last four days. Most children recover much more quickly than that. Here’s what to do while you wait for the infection to clear.
I had chronic ear infections as a child and I vividly remember the one I had at the age of 16 when my ear drum burst. It HURT! (Yes, I was on antibiotics and they didn’t help at all.) What helped was heat. I sat in the recliner with a heating pad against my ear all day. Whenever I removed it, the pain would return, but as long as I had it on there, it hardly hurt at all. You must be VERY careful with a small child and heat. Please don’t leave them unattended. There are several different things you can use:
- Electric heating pad: This has the most potential to burn since the temperature fluctuates, so keep your own hand on it!
- Rice-filled heating pad: Once it’s cooled enough to not burn, there is no risk of the heat increasing, so this is a good choice.
- Warm washcloth: It will need to be warmed often, as it won’t retain heat long, but the moist heat can really help.
- Onion: Yes, really! Bake for 20 minutes, with the skin on, slice in half and cool until it won’t burn. Hold the cut side against the ear until it is no longer warm. It also helps heal the infection. (Update: check the bottom of this post for more on onions and ear infections!)
Heal the infection
*Safety Tip*: If there is any puss coming out of the ear, that means the ear drum is perforated (it tore, due to the pressure). It will heal, but DO NOT put anything at all inside an ear that is perforated. I will explain alternatives for perforated ear drums.
- Lavender essential oil: Rub a few drops of lavender essential oil(make sure it’s a high quality and organic oil) behind the ear. It helps to heal the infection, but it also relieves pain (try it the next time you get burnt!). Start just behind the ear and gently rub down along the path that the Eustachian tube follows. From where my finger is in the first picture, gently follow the curve of the jaw, like the second picture. This, along with the heat, helped quickly.
- Ear drop oil: Garlic and mullein oil is highly effective in speeding up the process of healing. If you like, you can buy it ready-made in most health food stores, but here’s what to do if you’re making it yourself.
~Crush or mince 4 to 5 cloves of garlic and let it sit in a saucepan for 15 minutes (this allows the oxygen to activate the healing properties).
~Add 1/4 cup dried mullein.
~Add one ounce of olive oil and/or virgin coconut oil. I used a combination, since coconut oil is anti-viral (remember, ear infections can be nothing more than a virus!).
~Put the sauce pan inside of a larger sauce pan half filled with water (or use a double boiler, if you have one 😉 )
~Turn on the heat and get the oil warm, but do not “cook” the garlic. Once the oil is warm, turn off the heat and let sit. The hot water in the pan below will keep the oil warm for quite a long time.
~Once the oil is about to body temperature, strain out the garlic and herbs. Use a coffee filter or a clean tea towel, not just a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. It is crucial that you do not accidentally get bits of garlic and herbs in your child’s ear!
~Add essential oils, if you want. This will take the healing properties up a notch! I added one drop each of organic tea tree and lavender. If your child has sensitive skin, you might want to keep have some garlic-mullein oil set aside without the other essential oils. Switch to the garlic-mullein oil if skin irritation occurs.
~Store the oil in a glass jar and heat it to body temperature by setting the jar in a bowl of hot water. Check the temperature of the oil on the inside of your wrist. Too hot and it will burn, too cold and it will cause pain.
~Use a dropper to put 2 to 3 drops in the ear. (Sing a song to keep the child distracted, since they will need to lay there for 30 seconds to allow the oil to get all the way in the ear canal.) The warmth of the oil helps to reduce the pain (as does the lavender oil) and can be used once an hour. Use at least four times a day, but preferably six or more, until the child is well.
~Also apply the oil to the bottoms of the child’s feet and cover with socks. This allows the garlic and essential oils to get into the system and fight the infection even more effectively!
[If the ear drum is perforated, apply this oil behind the ear once an hour and apply to the bottoms of the feet every 3 to 4 hours. I’d also recommend using the baked and cut onion against the ear, since everything must be indirect treatment. You can also put 2 or 3 drops of the oil on a cotton ball and hold/tape it against the ear opening.]
- Garlic by mouth: Follow the instructions in this post. Even just a small amount is extremely potent and will help to fight the infection. If the child is still breastfeeding, mama can take the garlic in honey 3 times a day and the benefits will be passed through the milk to the baby.
- Keep the head elevated: Try to figure out a way to keep the child propped up while sleeping. Laying down flat increases the pressure and, therefore, the pain. Just be sure that whatever you do doesn’t put a baby at risk of smothering.
We started this treatment in the early evening and Pumpkin’s fever broke and ear pain was gone in well under 24 hours (she was much better after just 12 hours!).
You can probably prevent or stop chronic ear infections by changing from processed food to real food! Processed grains and dairy, especially, can cause reactions that lead to ear infections. Sourdough bread, raw and cultured dairy are much less likely to cause this. Also, avoiding all food additives, including artificial food coloring, flavorings and preservatives and enhancers (MSG is a big one). If your baby has chronic ear infections, check out this post and try making some changes to stop that cycle of ear infections and antibiotics.
*A few important safety notes: A high fever will make a child very tired and inactive, but if the child is unresponsive, get medical attention. Unresponsive means that a baby is limp and can’t seem to focus eyes on you, an older child may seem weak, confused and unable to answer questions. Also, a high fever can lead to dehydration, so push liquids as much as possible. Coconut water is an excellent choice, since it’s full of electrolytes.
Update (11/07/16): I received an email today from a man named Andy who had a fantastic experience using onion juice for his son’s chronic ear infections! Read about their experience here for information and instructions.
**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Please consider consulting a doctor, such as a naturopathic doctor or herbalist, for diagnosis and to determine the best course of treatment.