Natural Medicine Approaches for Alleviating Earaches
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
The splitting pain of an earache: while mostly common in children, adults can also be affected. We all know the itchy, scratchy, stuffy, feverish, achy feelings that come with a sore throat and a head cold, but ear pain is probably the worst. It starts with an overworked immune system, affecting one of our most vulnerable systems - the respiratory tract - which includes the mouth, throat, nose and ears.
Earaches can occur in the outer, inner or middle ear. When the pain is not due to a physical injury to the ear or environmental conditions (air temperature, air pressure) it's usually associated with infection, as follows:
Outer ear infection occurs in the delicate skin that lines the outer ear canal, where infection can be caused by swimming, use of dirty headphones, or sticking objects (fingers or swabs) into this region of the ear.
Middle ear infection often stems from a respiratory tract infection that has caused fluid build-up behind the ear drums where bacteria can breed.
Inner ear infection, aka labyrinthitis, is a disorder associated with bacteria or virus or stemming from an ongoing respiratory illness.
For decades, antibiotics were the most commonly prescribed medicine for ear infection, especially in children. Today, evidence-based medicine no longer relies on antibiotics as the first line of treatment. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has not recommended antibiotics for earache as a general practice since 2004.
Holistic doctors have long viewed ear infection as being caused by a weakened immune system that allows for germs to proliferate and infection to develop. A strong and vital immune system can mount a defense against these germs. Here's what you can do for yourself and your children:
Maintain healthy immunity by minimizing refined sugar and processed foods and eating organic whole foods including lots of vegetables, fruits, and legumes. For extra immune support, a holistic doctor may supplement the diet with a high-quality multivitamin, vitamin D, vitamin C, selenium and zinc. Dosing for children should be discussed with your holistic doctor.
Power-up the gut by eating a variety of fermented foods that are low in sugar and high in gut-friendly bacteria. Your body mounts a line of defense against germs from inside the gut. The greater the ratio of "friendly" to "unfriendly" gut bacteria, the better your immunity. Because many adults and children with a history of ear infections also have a history of antibiotic use, your holistic doctor may suggest adding a daily probiotic supplement.
Protect the ears from cold drafty air, which can aggravate already sensitive membranes and increase pain. When resting, keep the head and neck comfortably elevated.
When treating an earache, there are a number of natural medicine approaches for easing painful symptoms. Three highly effective ones include: an ear drop formulation using herbs with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and decongestant properties; a contrast foot bath, which draws fluid build-up away from the affected ear; and a eustachian tube massage which facilitates the release of fluids and reduction of inflammation from the ear canal. Learn how to do these techniques here.
Always remember, for guidance about using these, and other approaches, consult with a holistic healthcare professional.
HarvardHealthNewsletter.com "What is Middle Ear Infection?" https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/middle-ear-infection-otitis-media-a-to-z
Tlaskalová-Hogenová, Helena et al., "Commensal bacteria (normal microflora), mucosal immunity and chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases." Immunology Letters(15 May 2004) 93:2-3, Pages 97-108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imlet.2004.02.005
NPR.com "Pediatricians Urged to Treat Ear Infections More Cautiously." (2013 Feb) https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/02/25/172588359/pediatricians-urged-to-treat-ear-infections-more-cautiously