Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.
What Causes Ear Infections?
Ear infections refer to middle ear inflammation and are generally caused by bacteria. They occur when there is high fluid buildup at the back of the eardrum. An ear infection usually starts following a respiratory infection (upper) such as a cold or sore throat. If the cause of the said respiratory infection (upper) is bacteria, the same microbe can find its way into the middle ear. On the other hand, if a virus is the cause of the respiratory infection (upper), bacteria may find the environment inside the middle ear hospitable. This encourages the bacteria to spread within and cause a secondary infection in the middle ear. Fluid accumulates behind the eardrum as a result of the infection.
Who Suffers From Ear Infections?
Ear infections commonly affect youngsters, but they can also affect people of any age. Either the outer or inner ear canal can become infected. Infections are most common in the middle ear, but they are most dangerous in the inner ear—in a small space behind the tympanic membrane. Left untreated, these infections can cause chronic conditions or complications, including damage to the eardrum and hearing loss.
What Are the Complications of Ear Infections?
Complications are rare when it comes to ear infections, but there is always a possibility that they will arise.
- Rupture (bursting) of the eardrum: The eardrum can rupture or burst as a result of continuous fluid buildup inside the middle ear. A small hole is left when this happens, which usually heals in a span of two weeks.
- Impaired hearing: As a result of an ear infection, a person may experience trouble with hearing. The hearing problem is usually mild/moderate and temporary. Some kids might find it difficult to learn to talk as well as understand speech if they repeatedly have ear infections.
- Ongoing middle-ear inflammation: Also referred to as suppurative otitis media (chronic), this acute ear infection complication's major symptom is repeat or chronic pus drainage. The pus drains through the eardrum's tiny hole. A number of kids who have ongoing middle ear inflammation experience some loss of hearing. The treatment for the said condition usually involves antibiotic therapy.
What Are the Risks of Chronic Ear Infections?
- Damage to the middle ear's tiny bones; mastoiditis (inflammation of the bone found behind the ear); and cholesteatoma (growth of tissue at the back of the eardrum), which may require surgery, especially if the tissue growth is large enough to obstruct the middle ear and affect hearing.
- One of the rare complications of ear infections is meningitis, which occurs when the tissues that surround the spinal cord and brain are inflamed.
It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, there are some home remedies that might offer some relief.
Sweet Oil as a Home Remedy for Ear Infections
Ear infections can be extremely painful. Fortunately, there are different home remedies you can rely on to help you relieve the pain of an ear infection. One home remedy is sweet oil, which is made of olive and/or almond oil. This remedy has been used for many years in many cultures. Throughout history, olive oil has been used to relieve mild ear infections caused by irritants or earwax build-up.
Olive Oil and Its Antimicrobial Properties
People with narrow ear canals or chronic ear infections may find that sweet oil helps to prevent flare-ups. Olive oil contains natural antioxidants, flavonoids, amino acids, and vitamins E and A, among others. Unlike other plant oils that lose their health benefits after being processed, olive oil is able to retain its vitamins and antioxidants. This is because no nutrient-draining treatment (like heating) is required to extract it.
Using sweet oil as a home remedy for ear infections has been discouraged by some doctors, as the oil may keep them from seeing the eardrum clearly during a checkup.
How to Use Sweet Oil for Ear Infections
Follow these steps to help relieve the symptoms of an ear infection from home.
Purchasing the sweet oil:
- Purchase sweet oil at the drugstore. Sweet oil is usually sold in small bottles. (Keep in mind that sweet oil is unrefined, making it unsuitable for cooking.)
- You may also purchase sweet oil at health food stores. Make sure to store it in a dry and cool place at home to keep it from spoiling.
- Purchase a glass dropper bottle as well. Choose one that comes in a dark green, blue, or brown color. This will help to preserve the nutrients as well as the medicinal properties of the sweet oil. Make sure to sterilize the glass bottle and dropper; boil them in water for about ten minutes and then air-dry before use.
Preparing and applying the sweet oil:
- Gently heat a small amount of olive oil in a clean pan. Do this for only a few moments—just long enough to make the oil warm but not hot to the touch.
- Using a dropper, apply two to three drops of the warm oil to the affected ear. To keep the oil from running out, put a cotton ball in your ear to block it and catch any oil that escapes.
- Lie down for ten to fifteen minutes. Keep your head turned so that the infected ear is facing upward. This helps ensure that the oil penetrates the ear and does its job of relieving the pain.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the ear pain goes away.
Precautions and Safety Tips
- Placing liquids in the affected ear should be avoided if it seems that the eardrum has been ruptured. If the ear infection is not resolved even after a number of treatments, consult a doctor immediately.
- You may use a heating pad (at a low setting) over the affected ear (with cotton over the ear canal) so that the sweet oil is kept warm. Avoid sleeping with the heating pad turned on. It is also best not to apply heat to the ear for long periods of time. Try heating the affected ear for five minutes; let cool for several minutes before repeating the process.
- You can add mustard, almond, coconut, or garlic oils to the olive oil to enhance its antimicrobial properties. Be sure of the therapeutic quality and purity of these additions before using.
When Is Sweet Oil Not Advised?
- Do not use sweet oil if you have a punctured eardrum.
- You should know that while putting warm sweet oil in the ear can soothe an earache, clear the canal, and help with dermal abrasion, it does not cure the infection itself. If your earache has already evolved into an infection, you'll still need to see the doctor.
- It is important to make sure that there is no discharge or dripping pus from the infected ear when using sweet oil for ear pain.
- You need to test the oil's temperature against your inner wrist first before applying it to the affected ear. It should not be too warm or hot. Otherwise, the oil may burn the ear.
- It is best to avoid the use of cotton swabs when applying sweet oil to an ear infection. Any wax inside the ear could be impacted by the cotton swab, which can result in more ear complications. Try keeping the oil inside the ear by using a clean cotton ball instead.
Natural Remedies for Ear Pain
- Warmth: Warmth is an excellent pain reliever. A warm compress, hot water bottle, or a plastic bag filled with warmed water will do the trick to relieve pain.
- Eucalyptus Oil: Put several drops of eucalyptus oil or some Vicks VapoRub in a pan of steaming water, put a towel over your head to catch the steam, and inhale through your nose. The steam will help loosen and drain the fluids in your ear and help clear the eustachian tubes.
- Salt Sock: Put a cup of salt into a clean sock, tie it closed, and heat it in the microwave for a minute or so until it's just hot enough. Lie down on your side with the afflicted ear up. Lay the sock over your ear and relax for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat as needed. The heat and salt will help draw out the fluid inside your ear.
- Heated Salt Cloth: Heat a cup of salt on low in a pan or a double-boiler for a couple of minutes. Fill a clean cloth with the heated salt, then secure it with a rubber band or simply tie a knot. Once the heat becomes bearable, lie down and place the salt-filled cloth on the ear for about five to ten minutes. Do this every day as often as needed. Alternatively, you may use a cup of rice instead of salt and get the same results (relieved pain and swelling).
- Onion Juice: Dice about a quarter of an onion and put the pieces in a small glass bowl. Microwave it for a minute or two, then dab your clean fingertips in the onion juice and apply some of the juice to your ear.
- Baked Onion: Bake an onion for about thirty minutes before cutting it into two pieces. Use a cotton cloth to wrap one baked onion piece before placing it on the affected ear. Leave it on for a minimum of five minutes. Repeat the process as needed.
- Mustard Oil: Heat a small pan on medium before adding about two tablespoons of mustard oil or sesame oil. Add two garlic cloves and cook for a few minutes or until they blacken. Strain the prepared garlic oil. Once the heat is bearable, take 2 to 4 drops of garlic oil and apply to the affected ear as you would apply ear drops.
- Garlic: You might also consider boiling 2 to 3 garlic cloves (fresh) in water for about five minutes before crushing them. Add a teaspoon of salt and transfer the mixture to a cloth. Tie the end of the cloth into a knot before placing it against the infected ear. Disinfect your equipment before use. Alternatively, you may eat 2 to 3 garlic cloves (raw) every day to ensure faster healing.
- Coconut Oil: With its antimicrobial as well as antiviral properties, you can also count on coconut oil as an effective remedy. Simply apply a couple of coconut oil drops inside the ear canal. If using solidified coconut oil, melt it first by putting it inside a shot glass and then immersing it in a glass filled with hot water.
- Basil: Basil is another home remedy you can use for ear infections. To relieve ear pain and reduce infection, you can apply basil juice to the affected ear. Extract the juice from the basil by simply crushing about 4 to 5 holy basil leaves (fresh). Do not allow the juice to reach the ear canal. Alternatively, you can combine several drops of basil oil with the same amount of coconut oil or another carrier oil. You can then dip a cotton ball into the basil-coconut oil mixture. Once soaked, gently wipe the cotton ball behind the ear, around the outer ear, and inside the ear. Do this process two times a day, every day.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is effective at getting rid of the type of fungus that may trigger an ear infection. Take one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar as well as one tablespoon of water. Mix well and allow a clean cotton ball to soak up the mixture. Place the soaked cotton ball in the affected ear. Leave it on like an earplug for five minutes before removing the cotton ball. Lie on the side opposite the affected ear and let the liquid from the ear drain. To help dry the ear further, you can use a hair blower. Alternatively, you can use white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar.
- Tea Tree Oil: Because of its natural antiseptic properties, tea tree oil is worth considering as an effective home remedy for ear infections. You can either apply a few tea tree oil drops on the affected ear or combine it with a few drops of coconut oil first before rubbing it on the entire outer ear.
- Lavender: You can use lavender oil to relieve pain caused by an ear infection. Take a couple of drops of high-quality lavender oil and rub it behind the affected ear, making sure to gently rub along the jaw as well.
- Mullein Drops: You can easily make your own mullein drops to use for ear infections. Place one teaspoonful of mullein flower in a small bowl. Add some boiling water (1/2 cup) and let stand to cool. You can then combine one tablespoon each of the prepared mullein tea and olive oil. Allow the mixture to stand overnight before applying one drop of it to the infected ear.
- Goldenseal and Echinacea: Try using herbs like goldenseal and echinacea for an ear infection. These herbs have the ability to cleanse the body's internal systems and ward off infections. Simply mix the herbs with boiling water, then gradually drink the mixture thrice daily.
- Ginger: You can also give ginger root a try. With its powerful anti-inflammatory properties (due to the gingerols it contains) as well as antibacterial properties, ginger root has the ability to remedy ear infections. You can extract the juice from the ginger root and place it on the infected ear. You might also try mixing ginger root (freshly grated, 1 teaspoon) with olive oil (extra virgin, 2 tablespoons); after letting the mixture stand for ten minutes, place a few drops on the affected ear.
- Peppermint: The oil and leaves of peppermint have natural antibacterial, anesthetic, and anti-inflammatory properties that enable them to reduce an ear infection. You can extract the juice of fresh peppermint leaves and use a clean dropper to apply the juice to the infected ear. Avoid direct contact with the inside of the ear.
- Radish has its uses both on the dining table (as a salad ingredient) and as an ear infection remedy. Simply combine one teaspoon of grated radish with two tablespoons of mustard oil. Heat the mixture on low for ten minutes before filtering out the radish pieces. Transfer the oil into a glass bottle and use a clean dropper to get two to three drops of the prepared radish oil. Drop the mixture into the infected ear and repeat until the pain is relieved.
- Mango Leaf: Mango leaf juice is another effective home remedy for ear infections. Get a few mango leaves and crush or grind them so that the juice is extracted. Place the extracted juice in a small pan and heat on low for two minutes or until warm. Apply two to three drops of the warm oil to the affected ear using a clean dropper. Let the oil remain on the ear for about five minutes or until the ear pain is relieved. Repeat the process three times a day.
- White Vinegar: Ear infection-causing microorganisms find white vinegar's acidity toxic. To help prevent microorganisms from growing and reproducing inside the ear canal, place three to four drops of white vinegar in the affected ear. Allow the white vinegar to penetrate the ear canal by lying on your side and plugging the ear with a clean cotton ball. Do this three times a day.
- Massage: Gentle massage may help relieve the pain caused by ear infections, especially if the infection is a result of water being trapped in the ear. You can use pain balms to massage the painful area of the affected ear and surrounding areas. You will gradually notice a reduction in pain and symptoms of infection.
- Rest: Plenty of rest is also an important home remedy for ear infections. Rest enables your body to recover from an ear infection, especially when a fever accompanies it.
- Hydrate: Hydration is also important when dealing with an ear infection at home. Make sure to drink extra fluids.
- The Valsalva Maneuver: Some ear infections may not feel painful at all. To relieve the stuffed-up feeling that a painless ear infection may cause, you can consider the Valsalva Maneuver: Breathe deeply while keeping your mouth closed. Pinch your nose and then blow gently (otherwise, you will risk damaging the eardrum) while it is shut. This maneuver should make your ears “pop.”
- Eat Well: A sensible diet plan will help reduce and prevent ear infections. Include anti-inflammatory ginger in soups, teas, or juices, or eat with carrots or apples. Spice up your meals with turmeric; you will benefit from its antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Consume zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C-rich foods to give your immune system a boost. Drink lots of water to ensure thinner ear secretions and more effective draining.
When to See a Doctor
Home remedies are meant to be used to relieve ear pain but are not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment of an ear infection by a qualified medical professional. Use home remedies responsibly.
How to Prevent Ear Infections
While using home remedies to treat an infection, it always helps to take steps to avoid getting ear infections in the first place.
- Drink lots of water every day.
- Eat more greens and other fresh vegetables.
- Eliminate or reduce your consumption of processed foods. You may be able to prevent chronic ear infections by simply choosing real food over processed food. Dairy products and processed grains may cause chemical reactions in the body that could result in ear infections (switch to cultured and raw dairy, and sourdough bread). It also helps to steer clear of artificial food coloring, preservatives, enhancers (like monosodium glutamate), and flavorings.
- Make sure to chew gum when on an airplane or in increased elevation.
- Cover your ears with your hands or wear a scarf when going outside on a windy day.
- Do not forget to apply mineral oil on the outside of the ears before swimming.
- Dry your ears after taking a shower by using a blow dryer.
- Avoid drinking excessively.
- Stop smoking. Avoid passive smoking as well as air pollution.
- Avoid using combs or towels used by a person suffering from an ear infection.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Take the necessary precautions to prevent allergies, the common cold, and respiratory problems.
- Remind kids to stay away from people who are suffering from ear infections.
- Cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Consult your doctor about pneumococcal vaccinations and flu shots, which help to prevent ear infections.
- Use a cotton swab to regularly clean the outside of the ears.
- Consume probiotic foods and drinks for healthy digestion.
- Remember to yawn—this opens up the ear's eustachian tubes.
How to Prevent Ear Infections in Children
It is important to take steps to reduce a child's risk of getting ear infections. This is due to the fact that children are more prone to getting ear infections compared to adults. Follow these tips:
- Limit your child's exposure to secondhand smoke. Studies have found a strong link between ear infections in children and cigarette smoke exposure.
- A smaller setting may be best for your child when it comes to deciding on his or her care. More germs mean more colds for your son or daughter to catch if there are lots of children in a room. Ear infections are not contagious in nature, but the respiratory illnesses (upper) that result in ear infections are. Your child may also be potentially exposed to drug-resistant bacteria if any of the other children are taking antibiotics.
- Make sure to breastfeed your child for a minimum of six months. Breast milk has been found to provide a boost to the immune system and protects children who are prone to getting ear infections.
- Do away with using pacifiers. Pacifiers are notorious for introducing bacteria into a baby's mouth (from which the bacteria then find their way to the ear). Giving a pacifier to a child only during his or her bedtime and nap time may drastically reduce his or her chance of getting ear infections.
- Make sure to hold your baby in an upright position when bottle-feeding him or her. If the baby is laid flat on his or her back while drinking milk from a bottle, pumped breast milk (or formula) can accumulate in the mouth. The liquid can then travel to the middle ear where an infection may occur. It's often best to go with breastfeeding your child to keep milk from pooling in the mouth. The flow of breast milk is slower and more controlled than that which is consumed from a bottle.
- Learn all there is to know about having your child immunized against ear infections. Prevnar, a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, was introduced to children in 2000 to aid in fighting the most common pneumococcus strains that cause not just a serious infection like meningitis, but also the majority of ear infections caused by bacteria. Studies have reported a reduction in visits to the doctor for ear infections since the Prevnar vaccine became available.
- It is important to realize that your child's symptoms of ear infection may actually be symptoms of another health condition such as cutting teeth. Once your baby learns to tug on his or her ear, you might think that it is a symptom of an ear infection, but cutting teeth will also have your child do the exact same thing. As the back teeth's nerves start branching out toward the middle ear, your child feels pain around his or her ear. If a fever accompanies the pain and your child finds lying down extremely uncomfortable, then the culprit may be an ear infection.
- To help drain a child's infected ear, you can elevate his or her mattress by placing a pillow underneath it. Avoid putting a pillow directly under his or her head.
Additional Tips for a Fast Recovery
Aside from resting at home within one to two weeks, you can do the following to ensure a faster recovery from an ear infection:
- Follow a healthy diet plan. This ensures that your body gets all the nutrients it needs for recovery.
- Practice proper hygiene. Don't touch the infected ear and make sure to wash both hands with water and soap on a regular basis.
- When showering, bathing, or washing the hair, remember to protect the affected ear from the water by inserting a clean earplug made of cotton wool. It helps if you smear the earplug with a bit of petroleum jelly.
- Until the ear infection has completely resolved, it is best to avoid water sports or swimming.
- Put a piece of clean cotton wool inside the infected ear so that any discharge is collected. Do not forget to change the cotton wool on a regular basis.
- Avoid inserting matchsticks, cotton buds, or any items inside the ear canal. Let the affected ear clear itself by natural means.
- See the doctor if you notice some mucus in the infected ear after one to two weeks. Besides dulling your hearing, the mucus might cause repeated ear infections, which can lead to permanent loss of hearing.
- To make a child with an ear infection feel better, you can give him or her pain relievers such as acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medicines (non-steroidal). Pain relievers can help your child settle before bedtime.
- Make sure to follow the instructions on all medicine labels, especially when giving medicine to a child or baby. Follow the doctor's recommended amount.
- Never give aspirin to a child or anyone who is nineteen years old and under. This could lead to a serious illness called Reye's (Reye) syndrome.
The Different Types of Ear Infections
Acute Otitis Media (AOM)
Latin for "inflammation of the middle ear," AOMs may be triggered by either a bacterial or a viral infection. This is a painful condition but can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms include ear pain, fever, and irritability in children.
What causes acute otitis media?
A tube called the eustachian tube runs between the middle part of the ear and behind the throat. AOM occurs when this tube becomes blocked or swollen, which results in fluid being trapped inside the middle ear. The trapped fluid is prone to infection. Because young kids' eustachian tubes are horizontal and shorter compared to those of adults and older kids, they are more prone to becoming infected.
Swelling or blockage of the eustachian tube can be brought about by the following:
- A cold
- A sinus infection
- The flu
- Enlarged or infected adenoids
- Drinking in a lying position (in newborn babies)
- Cigarette smoke
Otitis Media With Effusion (OME)
Sometimes called "glue ear," this is a condition in which mucous collects in the middle ear. OME can occur as a result of a cold, throat infection, exposure to cigarette smoke, or allergic reaction. The middle-ear space fills with mucus which then becomes infected by bacteria. This type of infection is more common than AOM and is usually not painful. It usually goes away on its own.
What causes otitis media with effusion?
The inside of the ear and the area behind the throat is connected by the eustachian tube, which allows fluid to drain instead of accumulating in the ear; the fluid that drains from the eustachian tube is then swallowed.
There are two ways in which ear infections and OME are connected:
- An effusion is left behind for days or weeks inside the middle ear once an ear infection has been treated.
- Fluid accumulated inside the middle ear occurs when there is partial blockage of the eustachian tube. This leads to bacteria getting trapped inside the ear where it grows and may cause an infection.
The eustachian tube can become swollen, which may cause the amount of fluid in the ear to increase due to the following reasons:
- Respiratory infections
- Cigarette smoke and other irritants
Meanwhile, the eustachian can either become blocked or close because of the following reasons:
- Altitude: Descending on a road on a mountain or in an airplane and sudden pressure increase.
- Posture: Lying on one's back while drinking.
The last type, otitis externa, also known as swimmer's ear, occurs when a person spends a long period of time in water—especially polluted water—but may also result from trapped water in the ear canal after a shower. In some cases, it may be caused by a combination of heat, moisture (water or sweat), and local trauma (scratching). It's usually a bacterial infection, but sometimes it is fungal and can be treated with an antibiotic, a corticosteroid, antifungal, or acidic ear drops, depending on which kind of infection is found.
What causes otitis externa?
- Bacterial infection that is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus or Pseudomonas aeruginosa;
- Fungal infection that is caused by Candida albicans or Aspergillus;
- Middle-ear infection in which a deep infection's discharge can result in otitis externa;
- Allergic reaction or irritation due to sweat, hair cleaning products, ear plugs, and ear medications; and
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis affecting the ears, causing them to become inflamed and irritated.
Otitis externa can also be triggered by the following factors:
- Too much moisture: Excessive liquid in the ear canal makes one more susceptible to developing an infection since moisture provides a hospitable environment for bacterial and fungal growth. The risk of having excessive moisture in the ear can increase when sweating, swimming in dirty water or being exposed to humid surroundings.
- Ear damage: The sensitive ear canal can become damaged from excessive cleaning, scratching inside the ears, inserting cotton buds, using hearing aids, and wearing in-ear headphones or earplugs for a long period of time.
- Chemicals: The likelihood of getting otitis externa increases with the use of products such as earwax softeners, hair dyes, and hair sprays.
- Skin conditions: Acne, psoriasis, and eczema are underlying skin conditions that increase one's likelihood of getting otitis externa.
- Allergic conditions: Asthma, allergic rhinitis, and other allergic conditions place an individual at a higher risk of getting otitis externa.
- Weak immune system: The development of otitis externa becomes more likely if one has diabetes, has AIDS or HIV, or is undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. These conditions cause the immune system to weaken.
Ear Infection Symptoms
Acute Otitis Media or AOM Infections
AOM usually involves significant pain, fluid draining from the ears, fever, headache, dull hearing, and difficulty balancing.
For infants and kids, the following symptoms may be observed:
- Pulling on the ears
- Ear pain
- Neck pain
- A feeling of fullness inside the ear
- Ear fluid drainage
- Lack of balance
- Loss of hearing
Otitis Media With Effusion or OME
OME causes hearing difficulties (because the ear is blocked with fluid). There may be no pain involved. Loss of hearing is the most common symptom of glue ear, a condition in which one ear or both ears are affected.
Signs that a child is finding it difficult to hear include:
- Speaking quietly
- Easily tuning out of conversations when he or she gets distracted
- Having trouble understanding people who are distant
- Being able to only understand conversations that are done face-to-face and at a close range
- Having problems conversing in areas where there is plenty of background noise
- Experiencing problems with learning, communication, and social skills
- Appearing unusually irritable or tired
Always watch out for less common glue-ear symptoms such as:
- Trouble sleeping
- Episodes of middle ear pain
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Clumsiness and other problems with balance
- Delayed development of language and speech in younger kid
It's important to note that OE presents with the symptoms of AOM plus a feeling of fluid in the ear. Symptoms of otitis externa (OE) include the following:
- Pain in the ear
- A feeling of fullness and pressure inside the ear
- Scaly, peeling skin around and in the ear canal
- Swelling and redness of the ear canal and outer ear
- Irritation and itching in and around the ear canal
- Sore and swollen glands in the throat
- Feeling of tenderness when the ear or jaw is moved
- Ear discharge (thin and watery/thick and similar to pus)
- Some loss of hearing
Chronic Otitis Externa
In the case of chronic otitis externa, which can persist for months or years, the following symptoms can be observed:
- Constant itching around and in the ear canal
- The absence of earwax
- Thin and watery ear discharge
- Pain and discomfort in the ear that worsens when the ear is moved
- The accumulation of dry and thick skin in the ear canal (stenosis), resulting in a narrowed ear canal and affected hearing
How Are Ear Infections Diagnosed?
Ear infections usually cause no adverse effects if treated properly. A diagnosis requires the examination of the inside of the ear. In some cases, the infection will go away on its own within two to three days without medication. If pain is severe, over-the-counter pain relievers may be used. If medication is required to get rid of the infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Here is how ear infections are typically diagnosed:
- Otoscope: In some cases, ear pain is likely caused by an ear infection if it is accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose as well as fever and a sore throat. During a checkup, the doctor will use an otoscope to look for signs of an ear infection (in the case of a fussy baby, this is a difficult task). The doctor might also use another instrument called a pneumatic otoscope to blow air into the eardrum and check for any blockage in the middle ear. If there is nothing wrong with the eardrum, the air will move back and forth. If there is fluid in the eardrum, the latter will not readily move.
- Tympanometry: This is another ear infection test during which air pressure and sound are utilized in checking for signs of fluid inside the middle ear. An audiologist may be called in to carry out a hearing test; the result will be used to determine if there is loss of hearing.
- Eardrum Fluid: If a person is extremely ill, the doctor may decide to make a tiny hole in the eardrum. From this opening, he will then take a fluid sample from inside the middle ear. The said fluid sample is then cultured in the laboratory and studied for possible complications.
Standard Treatment Options for Ear Infections
Most doctors who treat ear infections have a single treatment goal: to eliminate any infection of the middle ear so that the more serious complications are prevented from setting in. Ear infection treatment generally involves getting rid of the causes of the infection and killing bacteria in the affected ear's eustachian tube.
- A virus is often the cause of ear infections. In this case, all a doctor can do is offer relief from the symptoms of the infection. The doctor may prescribe a pain reliever (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) to help ease the ear pain and manage the fever that accompanies the ear infection. In children who have ear infections, keep in mind that aspirin is not an option due to a link to Reye's syndrome. A heating pad's gentle heat can also be used to reduce ear pain, although care must be taken when using it on children.
- There are times when, even with the help of an otoscope, a doctor is unable to diagnose whether the cause of an ear infection is bacteria or a virus. In this case, choosing the right course of ear infection treatment may be a bit difficult.
The Controversial Use of Antibiotics in Treatment
There was debate during the '90s (it was observed that bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics) over the use of antibiotics for the treatment of middle ear infections. A number of doctors had opted to initially treat ear infection symptoms without the aid of bacteria-killing drugs, but a greater number of doctors had expressed their concern regarding antibiotic-free treatment options.
- Risk of Worsening Condition: Without the help of antibiotics, bacteria present in the middle ear may grow at a rapid rate, resulting in mastoiditis or loss of hearing. Some doctors pointed out that such complications became rare due to antibiotic therapy. For this reason, many doctors treated all infections of the ear as though bacteria were the culprit.
- Amoxicillin Resistance: For the treatment of bacterial infections, the preferred antibiotic is amoxicillin, which is so effective that a single course is enough to resolve an ear infection within just one week to ten days. The problem is that a number of bacterial strains have developed resistance to amoxicillin. Antibiotic-use critics have pointed out that this phenomenon was a result of using amoxicillin to treat ear infections that were not caused by bacteria.
- Serious Complications: If serious complications arise from an ear infection or if fluid lingers inside the ear for over three months, doctors may encourage their patients to undergo a procedure referred to as a myringotomy with pressure equalizing tube insertion surgery. This is done to allow the middle ear to drain or to eliminate any infection.
Myringotomy Procedures and Pressure Equalizing Tube Surgery
A small tube that is barely 1/2 an inch in length is inserted into the eardrum so that more air is able to enter the eustachian tube. This allows the eardrum to ventilate as well as dry out. The inserted tube (it naturally falls out in one year) keeps the eardrum's hole open.
A ventilation tube not only reduces ear pain but also reduces the number of infections in children and improves hearing. The procedure often produces good results with little chance of scarring and infection. In case ear infections return after the tubes are no longer in place, the doctor may recommend inserting another set of tubes along with an adenoidectomy (a procedure involving the removal of the adenoids). The procedure attempts to unblock the ear's eustachian tube in a major way as well as prevent the possibility of inserting still another set of tubes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Fiona from South Africa on July 09, 2020:
Thanks, I've been battling this year with recurring ear infections. They're not bad enough to see a doctor, but they're uncomfortable. I've been using an over the counter treatment, but it only helps for a little. I'll try sweet oil as soon as I can get to the drug store.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 22, 2019:
When I was a kid my grandmother used to put a few drops of mustard oil in my ears and it relieved me from the ear wax as well as dryness or pain in the ears.
A detailed and nice article.
Pricilla on October 06, 2018:
Curious can you still put sweet oil into a kid’s ear infection if they have had tubes put in like a month ago??? Hope someone answers this for me soon.. :)
Tracy on March 17, 2017:
Hello , I have 3 kids and my oldest had afew ear infections . My hubby told me something I would have never ever thought of because it sounded to me gross but my daughter has never had another ear infection again. He told me to use urine from her and put 2-3 drops in as it is warm soothing and has its own healing medicine. His dad did it with him and he has never had another infection either, so give it a try.
Faruqe/systech on December 13, 2015:
Here the post is ear health. In this post author advice us how we protect our ear.
Gunny Cracker from Elkhorn, WI on October 26, 2015:
Since boyhood I have had excess earwax build-up which becomes hard, dry plugs called beezors. My mother used to warm Sweet Oil from the drugstore to treat it. I have had beezors removed through irrigation by medical professionals numerous times.
The beezors cause temporary hearingloss and sometimes ringing or other odd noises. I believe they are caused by dehydration and sleeping on my stomach routinely. Haven't been to a doctor for it in many years now because of home remedies. I tried the candling method once with marginal results. Baby oil and olive oil also work to soften the beezors. Laying on my side I drop six or more drops of oil into the plugged ear so gravity pulls it down into the canal. After it soaks in about ten minutes I carefully add at least six drops of hydrogen peroxide and it really goes to work.
Afterwards when I shower I jetstream the very warm water nozzle directly into my ear for a good twenty seconds. Usually the wax build-up is liquified by this point and drains out, but often a plug of dry wax a quarter-inch in diameter pops out. It is like a whole new world then and I hear great. It also helps to pull the outer top of the ear straight out away from your head during any of these procedures.
Lea R on July 22, 2015:
You can still find it at Wal-Mart for about $4. I went to Walgreens and Cvs and no one knew what I was talking about. I then tried Wal-Mart. I'm actually using it right now because I have an earache. I've had excessive earwax issues for years and never had problems, til now. Hope this helps
Sree Lakshmi (author) on July 09, 2015:
Hi Lisa sc
Sweet oil is still available and you can buy it online from the product link mentioned in the post :)
Lisa Sc on July 09, 2015:
They use to sell this sweet oil at Walgreens several years ago but you can't find it anymore - probably because it was very cheap. I sure wish they hadn't quit selling it as I been really needing sweet oil for my ears. When my kids were young the sweet oil really helped their ear aches. I have allot of fluid in my ears. I also have a dizziness condition that is all the time; I've had it for 1 year. I really need to order some of this sweet oil.
Cuddlles on March 05, 2015:
I remember my Grandfather using this on me when I was a child when I would get an earache. It worked well. Luckily I never had issues with ear infections as a child. Hopefully I will have the same luck as I did 30 plus years ago!
Janellegems on April 15, 2014:
Very informative hub and very useful remedy for ear infection. Thanks for sharing.