Natural Treatments for Children’s Ear Infections
Dear Dr. Ben,
QUESTION: Since becoming pregnant I have stopped nursing my 3 year old daughter. I just couldn’t do it anymore. That was about a month ago. She now has an ear infection. The first she’s ever had, which I am suspicious is a result of weaning.
I feel extremely guilty over having to wean her and this infection only makes it worse. I don’t want to put her on antibiotics as she’s never had those either. So, I need help figuring out how to get rid of this once and for all.
Thanks so much for your help.
Hi Erin –
Ear infections are bound to happen with little ones. Please do not blame yourself. Breast feeding her until over 3 years old is highly commendable.
Common causes of ear infections:
- Dairy products – many children cannot tolerate dairy until they are quite a bit older and sometimes never. I still try to avoid dairy products entirely with my boys. Cow Milk seems to be the worst form. Cheese, whey protein, kefir or cottage cheese does not seem to cause ear infections in my boys like standard milk does – but – everyone is different and all dairy products may need to be avoided.
- Eating laying down – if your child eats while laying down, the food or drink can get into their ear canal causing a bacterial party. Always keep them upright to eat
- Outside when cold without a hat – when it gets quite cold outside and they are without a hat, this can lead to an ear infection. I am not sure of the mechanism but it occurs commonly. Always put a hat or hood on your little when quite cold outside.
- Swimming – pools and other bodies of water may lead to ear infection. This is not as common but can be a cause.
Antibiotics and Ear Infections:
Most ear infections do not need antibiotics. (80% according to family medicine studies)
However, if an ear infection gets worse and becomes complicated, antibiotics may be life-saving as they can prevent infection in the mastoid process (mastoiditis) and meningitis. Both complications are quite rare with ear infections; however, they can happen.
If antiobiotics are indicated, and again, they are typically not, take the full round of antibiotics as directed. Then take a probiotic after the course of antibiotics to replenish the bacteria in the digestive tract. Antibiotics eradicate most if not all digestive bacteria. So replenishing the digestive tract again with healthy bacteria is essential.
A ‘probiotic’ is healthy bacteria that is needed in the human body for proper immune and digestive function.
Keep in mind that the antibiotics do not remove the cause of ear infections; they simply kill the bacteria. The cause may still remain so the likelihood for recurrent ear infections remain high. Therefore, it is key that the common causes of ear infections are removed in order to prevent further occurences.
Dr Greene talks about antibiotics and ear infections quite well. I highly recommend reading his blurb on Ear Infections.
Reducing Pain with Ear Infections:
There are a few tricks which work quite well in reducing ear infection pain:
- Wet Sock Treatment – this pulls fluid from the head and relieves pressure. I use it when my patients have ear infections and have used it on my boys when they had them. Doctors have renamed the Wet Sock Treatment to the ‘Warming Sock Treatment’ – sounds better and is more accurate.
- Avoiding Sugar and Milk Products – key as both feed the bacteria
- Acidophilus – if your child has had antibiotics in the past without use of probiotics, getting a quality probiotic is key. For little ones, I recommend using 1/3 sachet in a 1/5 cup of water. Stir well and give right before dinner. Do this for 14 days. The acidophilus will boost her immune system and attempt to restore healthy digestive bacteria balance.
- Homepathics to reduce ear infection pain – depending on the type of child, one can provide earache drops or earache tablets.
- Herbal Medicines – specific herbal medicine applied in the ear may significantly reduce the pain and duration of ear infections as well. Gaia makes a great product ‘Gaia Herbs Childrens Herbal Ear Drops.’ You may find this in your local health store. I need to start carrying this product as it is effective.
For those who can chew gum – chewing xylitol gum may reduce the pain and may assist in treating the ear infection. Xylitol Gum is best used to prevent ear infections.
Cautions with Home Treatment of Ear Infections:
If this is your first experience with an ear infection, I recommend you visit a naturopathic physician. They will go over all the tricks/traps of home treatment of ear infections.
If you get on the ear infection quickly, the tympanic membrane, aka Ear Drum, is less likely to rupture. All these home treatments may significantly reduce the pain and may remove the ear infection.
If the tympanic membrane ruptures, typically fluid will be seen coming out of the ear and pain will be gone. It will appear as if the child’s ear infection has healed but in actuality it has not. The tympanic membrane can heal by itself commonly if it ruptures in the ‘proper place’. Obviously, the goal is to prevent the tympanic membrane from rupturing.
If you see fluid coming out of the ear or the pain has gone, do NOT put anything in the child’s ear. I advise taking the child to a naturopathic physician and having their ears examined.
Good luck and speedy healing with your little one!