With your little ones beginning to gear up for the school year, you’re probably relieved about finally getting a break again. But one thing is almost inevitable: at some point or another, your little one is going to come home from school complaining of ear pain and you’ll be dealing with a (possibly nasty) ear infection. But before scooping them up and rushing to your family doctor, read through this.
How To Tell If It’s An Ear Infection
You can generally tell if your child has an ear infection even if they can’t, won’t, or don’t tell you what exactly it is that’s bothering them (For example, with babies and toddlers). Difficulty sleeping, tugging at the ear, redness of the ear, headache, poor response to sounds, fluid draining from the ear (this means the eardrum has been perforated, but we’ll talk more about that later), vomiting, and diarrhea are all symptoms.
Your child may spike a fever before there’s even any pain (because their little body will be trying to fight off the infection), which means you’ll have to wait for their ear to start hurting. It can be brutal, but it’ll be worth it.
A fever will generally make your child want to lay around and sleep a lot, but if your child has a fever of more than 104 degrees F (40 degrees Celsius) or if they become unresponsive—for a baby, this means limpness and the inability to focus their eyes on you, for a toddler or an older child this could mean confusion, weakness, and the inability to answer simple questions that they usually have no issues with—seek medical attention immediately.
You also need to remember to keep a close eye on your child’s water intake while they’re running a fever, as they can easily become dehydrated. Coconut water is an excellent fluid to give as it’s chock full of electrolytes they need.
Why We Get Ear Infections
Kids suffer from ear infections more often than adults do, and there’s a laundry list of things that can cause and/or contribute to them: Wax buildup, upper respiratory infections, environmental or food allergies, nutritional deficiency, or even simple genetics can use your little one to suffer.
If you run to your family doctor at the first signs of an ear infection, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be leaving that office with an antibiotic prescription in hand. What that doctor isn’t going to tell you while you’re there is that those antibiotics might not even work.
Here’s the thing: Not all ear infections are bacterial; a virus causes some of them, and antibiotics don’t fight viral infections. Taking antibiotics to fight a viral infection might do more harm than good, especially in children. It seems like doctors are handing out antibiotics like candy these days, too, so try to be absolutely sure that your little one needs them (and sometimes they will) before filling the script.
Regardless of whether a virus or bacteria causes your child’s ear infection, there are tons of ways to treat it from home naturally. Here are three things that will get your little one back to their normal selves in no time (and you back on your toes trying to keep up with them).
Treating an Ear Infection Naturally
Most of what you need, you’ll find in your kitchen:
Ear infections can be brutally painful, especially for a child. Keeping the body temperature high on the sore ear can help relieve some of that pain. There are a few ways that you can get that heat:
A Warm Washcloth
You’ll have to reheat it often, but if you have nothing else on hand to help soothe the pain, it’ll work. The most effective technique I’ve found is to wet the washcloths with hot water, ring them out, and stick them in the dryer for a few minutes to warm them up a little more. Check the heat by sticking the washcloth on your wrist. If it’s warm (but not too hot), fold it up and place it on the ear. Protip: Soak a few washcloths at one time so that you can just keep alternating them.
A Hot Water Bottle or Heating Pad
When I was a kid, my mom used to wrap a hot water bottle in a tea towel, and I’d lay on it until I couldn’t feel the heat anymore. This still works, but if you’d like a more eco-friendly option, you could always make your own heating pad with rice (and I strongly suggest that you consider doing this at one time or another they’re so easy to make and so effective that you’ll be kicking yourself for not making at least one sooner) that can be easily microwaved whenever needed.
This might sound a little unconventional, but I promise you that it really does work – Bake an onion (one that will be large enough to fit over the ear) for 20 minutes at 325 with the skin on. Slice the onion in half and let it cool down until it won’t burn (you can tell with the wrist test).
Hold the cut side against the ear until it’s lost all of its warmth, and then repeat with the other half – Not only will the heat help soothe the pain, but the onion will help draw out the infection. If your child doesn’t want to hold onto the onion, it can be wrapped in a clean washcloth.
Since garlic fights infection, it’s something that you should always have on hand. If they can stomach it, have your child swallow some chopped garlic mixed with a little bit of honey (if you’re treating a baby and breastfeeding, take the mixture yourself three times a day the benefits will pass through your milk and onto your baby).
If they’re not too keen on that idea, have them ingest it however they’ll take it – One of my favorite ways to eat garlic is simply chopped or roasted in mushroom or chicken noodle soup (which your child is probably already eating anyway; homemade is best, but canned will work in a pinch).
You can also make or buy a garlic and mullein oil mixture that can be used topically – If you want to make it yourself, you can find a recipe here (I also add a little coconut oil for its antiviral properties). This oil can be heated up and placed on the bottoms of the feet (plus socks of course) every three to four hours to help draw out the infection and/or rubbed behind the ear.
You can warm up the oil mixture and use a dropper to put 2-3 drops in the ear (ensuring that they lay still for at least 30 seconds to allow the oil to make its way through the ear canal) six or more times a day as well. Still, if the ear drum is perforated, you’ll need to steer clear of putting anything directly in the ear. You’ll know if the ear drum has been perforated because if it has been, it will be oozing liquid and puss – If this is the case, the warmed oil can be applied behind the ear (towards the jawline) once an hour.
3. Essential Oils
The right kinds of essential oils can also seriously help you fight off an ear infection, as well as other kinds of infections. For example, rubbing a few drops of lavender essential oil behind the ear will help heal the infection but will also help relieve the pain.
Other types of oil that could help include eucalyptus, tea tree, and oregano oil (if you decide to make your own garlic mullein oil, try adding one or more of these oils to it to make it even more potent; if your child has sensitive skin, you might want to stick to a small batch with the additions first, at least until you know if it’s going to irritate them).
There you have it—things you can find in your kitchen that don’t alter the state of your child’s (or your) immune system yet still fight off infection. Additionally, you can help relieve some of the pain by elevating the head to decrease pressure and ensure that a lot of fluids are being ingested.
97% of ear infections will clear up without the use of antibiotics, and most of them will clear up within four days. If you’d like to take your child to a doctor to get a professional opinion without having to leave the office with a prescription for penicillin, you could always opt to see an herbalist or a naturopathic doctor.