Ear infections are caused by a strain of bacteria or a virus that infects the ear. They can vary in their severity, from mild cases, with a small amount of fluid buildup in the middle ear, to more serious cases, where blood or pus blocks the auditory canal. Symptoms may include an array of flu-like symptoms or nothing more than a dull ache. Ear infections can also vary in frequency of occurrence-some people get them only once in their life, while others have recurring infections almost every year. Ear infections are common in infants and young children, because the mechanism to drain fluid from the middle ear is not yet well developed.
Ear infections can originate either in the outer ear (otitis extema) or the middle ear (otitis media). Infections of the middle ear are more common. If left untreated, ear infections can result in a ruptured eardrum or even hearing loss.
Signs and Symptoms
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Hearing loss
- Pus secretions from the ear
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and diarrhea
Conventional Medical Treatment
If You experience sharp pain inside your ear, or if You have had a dull ache for more than two or three days, see your doctor immediately. To diagnose the condition, your doctor examines your ear with an otoscope, an instrument containing a light and a magnifying lens.
Antibiotics are the common method of treatment for ear infections-an antibiotic regimen can usually clear up an infection within a week. Long term, low dose antibiotics (3 to 6 months) may be prescribed for children with recurrent infections.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Breastfeeding enhances immunity. Bottle-fed babies have a higher incidence of otitis media (middle ear infection) than breastfed babies. Breast milk is one of the few sources of GLA (gamma linoleic acid), an essential fatty acid that reduces inflammation.
Babies introduced to cow’s milk and solid foods too early are more prone to developing allergies. Allergy-prone children have a higher incidence of otitis. Possible food allergens are peanuts, eggs, wheat, soy, dairy products, and citrus fruits. During an ear infection, eliminate dairy products for 30 days. Feed your baby soy milk, rice milk, or nut milk.
Some experts believe that excessive antibiotic treatment contributes to chronic ear infection. The following supplements may help (dosages will vary according to age and weight of child; follow your doctor’s recommendations):
- vitamin A
- vitamin C (50 mg every 2 to 3 hours; for total daily dosage, multiply 50 mg by the child’s age)
- vitamin E with selenium
- a prodophilus formula (if antibiotics are administered)
- evening primrose oil
- thymus extract
- N-acetyl-L-cysteine-will help ear to drain (Caution: This supplement may cause diarrhea in some children.)
To quiet the pain of an ear infection massage around the outer ear with essential oils of lavender or chamomile. To lessen pain while drawing out infection, use a hot compress laced with lavender or chamomile oil on the affected ear. Caution: Do not put essential oils in the ear.
Ear infections always require the attention of a qualified health care professional. However, you may be able to open and drain the eustachian tubes, and thus alleviate some pain, by massaging the lymph nodes in front of the ears. You also may be able to ward off recurrences by taking the herb gotu kola. Ayurvedic practitioners often use neem oil to fight the infection.
Bodywork and Somatic Practices
CranioSacral Therapy can be a very gentle, effective therapy for the problem. Try it in combination with Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, or reflexology.
In cases of ear infection, the upper cervical vertebrae located near the eustachian tube may be pinching the tube in some way, creating a clog in which fluid and bacteria accumulate. Specific chiropractic adjustment (SCA) to these vertebrae may relieve that pinching. Many parents see a decrease in the frequency and severity of their children’s ear infections when these children receive ongoing chiropractic care. Use chiropractic in conjunction with standard medical treatment, which may involve the use of medication to relieve pain and promote drainage of fluid.
Homeopathic remedies are safe and effective for external as well as middle ear infections, and many are also appropriate for recurrent infections. The best approach is to see a homeopathic practitioner who may recommend one of the following remedies, depending on your symptoms:
- Belladonna – for an ear infection with intense pain that extends down to your neck; your ear is red, and you may have a sore throat and sudden high fever
- Aconite – if the onset is sudden after you’ve been exposed to cold
- Chamomilla – if the infection is accompanied by extreme irritability and the pain is worse when you bend over (in a child, this type of earache is often associated with teething and may seem to improve when the child is carried)
- Pulsatilla – for an earache following a cold that produces heavy congestion; accompanied by thick discharge from the ear
Use hot compresses to help draw out the infection and reduce pain. Or apply alternating hot and cold compresses to increase circulation, decrease pressure in the ear area, and increase the absorption of inflammatory deposits.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture may be used to enhance kidney functioning, which Chinese medical experts associate with ear problems. The acupoints targeted in the treatment of otitis media are the kidney, internal ear, and internal secretion points in the ear itself, along with related points on the body. Acupuncture-alone or with moxibustion-also may be used to help relieve the pain and fever associated with this condition.
Acupressure An ear infection-related fever may be reduced by pressing on Governing Vessel, Large Intestine and related ear points.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Because Chinese medicine views ear infections as being caused by kidney disorders, herbal practitioners attempt to enhance kidney function and balance chi in the kidney meridian.
Herbal formulas traditionally used for this purpose include Panax Ginseng Capsules, Gentiana, Rehmannia Six, Eight Immortal Long Life Pills, Polygonum Tablets, and Planetary Formula’s Twin Kidney Tonics, and Energetics Yin and Energetics Yang, which should be taken simultaneously.