Ear infections are a prevalent childhood ailment. In fact, it is the No.1 complaint pediatricians see children for. While it's common for children to experience ear pain at some point during their early years, some face persistent middle ear inflammation (otitis media), posing a significant challenge for both the child and their parents.
I can vividly recall being one such child. Throughout my early years, I grappled with recurrent purulent middle ear and throat infections, leading to frequent antibiotic prescriptions. This, in hindsight, only perpetuated a vicious cycle.
Determined to spare my son, Dorian (now 6), and myself from such trials, I opted for a different, more natural approach.
In this blog post, I’ll share effective natural remedies to support your child during an acute episode, and find ways to break free from the cycle without reaching for an antibiotic if your child faces recurring ear infections.
Why Kids Easily Get Ear Infections
The Eustachian tube is a small canal connecting the middle ear to the upper throat. Its job is to balance air pressure between the middle ear and the outside world.
This tube also lets extra fluid from the middle ear drain into the nose and throat. If the fluid can't drain properly, it builds up in the middle ear, causing pressure, pain, redness, and sometimes infection.
This trapped fluid becomes a breeding ground for germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, easily traveling from the throat to the middle ear.
In babies and kids, the Eustachian tube is nearly horizontal, making it harder for liquid to drain. As children grow, the tube becomes more vertical, making fluid drainage easier and reducing the risk of infections as they get older.
Western medicine blames this anatomical difference for why many kids often get ear infections. However, it doesn't explain why some children never experience them while others do.
Interestingly, frequent middle ear infections seem more common in the Western world, unlike in Chinese children who are largely spared. This raises questions about whether anatomy alone can explain the difference.
Identifying Ear Infections
Ear infections often start with an upper respiratory tract infection like a cold. However, they can also result from inflammation in the nasal sinuses, adenoids, or tonsils.
If it's an infection, your child might develop a fever. For very young children, you may notice signs of ear pain through crying, pulling, or rubbing their ears. Older kids can usually communicate that their ear hurts.
It’s also important to know that most pain peaks for about 24 hours before resolving on its own and this is the time when most parents visit the pediatrician and end up getting antibiotics.
Antibiotics Yes or No?
When a pediatrician observes a red eardrum or fluid buildup behind it, antibiotic therapy is often recommended. However, it's important to note that most ear infections are viral, caused by viruses.
Also a red ear drum is not necessarily a diagnostic indicator of acute otitis media because the ear drums may simply be red due to a cold or URI and if kids have recurring ear infections their eardrum might constantly look red but that doesn’t mean that they have an acute infection the whole time.
What often occurs is that parents, once back home from their pediatrician with an antibiotic, administer a few doses of antibiotics to their children. As the pain subsides, parents may believe the antibiotics are effective, even though they haven't been in the child's system long enough to take effect. In reality, the body is naturally healing the ear on its own.
The use of antibiotics is primarily aimed at easing inflammation and doesn't significantly alter the course of the disease. Conversely, frequent antibiotic use can contribute to the recurrence of ear infections, creating a vicious cycle.
Allowing Ear Infections to Heal Naturally
Choosing to let ear infections heal naturally is a path that not only lowers the risk of the infection lingering but also strengthens your child's immune system.
While severe pain may trigger panic and concerns about complications, these fears are typically unwarranted.
In many cases, antibiotics are used too quickly.
Reserving antibiotics for necessary situations helps your child's immune system develop resilience against future infections, gradually reducing the likelihood of such incidents.
This enables them to combat new infections more effectively and rapidly, ultimately decreasing the occurrence of such incidents altogether.
Natural Remedies for Ear Pain I Swear By
Navigating the world of ear pain without reaching for antibiotics?
Here's your guide to natural ear pain remedies that might just bring some sweet relief:
Massage & Acupressure for Ear Pain and Infections
Massaging and using acupressure are great ways to make ear pain feel better and speed up the healing.
These methods can be especially good for kids who don't like medicine or other home remedies, as most kids enjoy getting a massage.
You can do this massage anytime, anywhere. It's a handy way to help with ear pain, even when you're on a plane or traveling.
Plus, it's super safe and can be used by both grown-ups and kids.
For quick relief from ear pain and to help drain fluid from the ears, try acupressure on two points - one in front of the ear and one behind.
Here's how: Put some lotion or oil on your child's neck, like a mix of almond and lavender oils.
Gently massage the neck with your thumb, starting behind the ear and moving down the neck to a point in front of the collarbone (see picture below).
Begin the acupressure by locating the same starting point as the massage, which is in the hollow behind the ear.
Another really good acupressure spot is in front of the ear. You can find it by feeling for a hollow between the ear cartilage and the jaw joint (see picture below).
For these techniques to work well, make sure to do the massage and acupressure 3 to 4 times a day, each time for about 30-60 seconds, especially during an active infection.
More TCM Home Remedies for Ear Pain
If your child's ear hurts a lot, you can use a warm-cold compress on the side of their head with the hurting ear.
Start with a warm compress to boost circulation, then switch to a cold one to cool things down.
You can do this a few times in a row and several times a day as needed.
Tip: Here's how to make a compress
Get a small towel or cloth diaper, wet it with warm water, squeeze it out, put it on the side of their head, and cover it with another dry towel.
Make sure it feels comfortable for your child, and you can adjust the temperature and time accordingly.
Warm Herbal Compress
You can make a warm herbal compress using a mixture of 60g each of dried chrysanthemums and 60g of dried dandelion.
Place the dried plant parts in a large pot, cover them with water, and let them soak for about 30 minutes.
Cook them on low heat with the lid open for 30 minutes.
Pour off the liquid and set it aside.
Refill the pot with the herbs and about 750ml of water. Let them cook on low heat for another 30 minutes.
Pour off the second decoction and mix it with the first.
Bring the combined liquid to a comfortably warm temperature and use it as a warm compress, following the earlier instructions.
If you store the mixture in the fridge, you can use it for up to 2 days without making a new one every day.
Tip: If the water in the pot boils down too much, simply add another cup of water and let it continue to boil.
Soothing Sesame Oil with Garlic or Peppermint Juice
Gently crush a garlic clove or fresh peppermint to get a few drops of juice. Combine the juice with a few drops of warm sesame oil, then carefully apply the mixture into your child's ear. Ensure that the oil is comfortably warm and not too hot.
The Onion Pouch
While not originating from China, the onion pouch is a well-established Western home remedy that I'd like to share with you.
Here's how it works:
Dice a small onion and warm it over a steam bath (such as on an inverted pot lid or place it on a plate).
Put the warm, NOT hot, onions into a cloth bag or folded handkerchief and place it on the ear that hurts.
Secure it with a beanie or headband.
Keep it on the ear for as long as your child finds it comfortable.
Remember, these remedies are not one-size-fits-all, and it's essential to listen to your child's body. If symptoms persist or worsen, consulting with a healthcare professional is always a wise move. So, dive into the natural arsenal and discover which remedies work best for you and your family.
Want to Learn More?
Explore some of my favorite blogs that cover common symptoms and conditions in children.
Gain the confidence to provide natural care at home for your kids while learning when medications may be necessary.