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Disclaimer: This post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnosis. Please see your health care practitioner for more assistance.
When ear infections strike, they usually mean intense pain, fever and discomfort for children. Worried parents may take their child to the doctor and leave with a prescription for antibiotics. But are antibiotics the best remedy? Often the answer is a surprising: NO. Do you know most ear infections are viral? Antibiotics do not work on viral infections. Do you know that we are also able to fight bacterial infections on our own? We can! Bacterial infections may take longer to clear up, but it’s possible to heal from a bacterial infection without the use of antibiotics.
I wanted to write this article to help families who are seeking an alternative treatment for their children. I hear about so many children suffering from ear infections and I want to help these families. I am not against antibiotics. In fact I am very grateful they exist if we need them. However, I feel antibiotics are grossly and irresponsibly prescribed by the medical community. Our bodies are capable of tremendous healing if we allow them to do their jobs. I have two children, ages 6 and 3. My children have never taken antibiotics. I don’t say this to boast about their awesome superhero immune powers– my kids get sick like other kids. But when my kids are under the weather we use home remedies instead of pharmaceuticals to support healing with great results. It IS possible!
What are our favorite home remedies you may ask? Before I give you my long list, let’s break down the anatomy of an ear infection.
What is an ear infection?
There are several different types of ear infections. In this article I will focus on the most common type of ear infection for children: the middle ear infection, or otitis media (OM). During a middle ear infection, the Eustachian tubes (they connect the middle ear to the nose and allow fluid to drain) become clogged and infected, either by a virus or bacteria.
What causes ear infections?
Ear infections are most commonly caused by a virus or bacterial infection. Often the ears become infected after a cold virus, when a child has a lot of congestion in the sinuses. Children’s Eustachian tubes are smaller than adults, which can make them more susceptible to clogging. For children who have repeated ear infections, chronic inflammation caused by food sensitivities and allergies may be the cause and your child should be tested (details below). Environmental allergies may also be a factor.
Do you really need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are prescribed for ear infections more than for any other childhood ailment, even though the majority of ear infections will clear up on their own without medication. Antibiotics come with their own set of risks including lowered immune function (antibiotics wipe out the good flora in the digestive tract along with the bad) and side effects like diarrhea, cramping, indigestion, yeast infections and allergies. Frequent use of antibiotics also reduces their effectiveness. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of ear infections. Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, one of the authors of the new guidelines, says 70% of ear infections resolve on their own within 2-3 days and 80% of infections get better on their own within ten days. The key here is giving kids time to heal, something we don’t always feel comfortable doing. The new guidelines encourage doctors (and parents) to use the “wait and see” approach. Even infections with a bulging ear drum and fever may be able to resolve on their own. When antibiotics are used prematurely, some bacteria will survive the medication, making the next infection harder to treat. So the next time your child gets an ear infection, here are some holistic remedies to try.
Holistic remedies for ear infections.
Onion Ear Muff: This is by far my favorite remedy for ear infections. The warmth of the onion soothes the pain almost immediately and the vapors from the onion help to fight the infection. This remedy offers a 2-for-1 punch against ear infections! To make an onion ear muff slice an onion in half and scoop out the inner layers until only the last 2-3 rings remain. Heat the onion in the oven for about 15 minutes at 300 degrees until it is warm and slightly steaming. Wrap the onion in a towel and cup it over the infected ear. Repeat as often as necessary to soothe pain.
Garlic/Mullein Ear Drops: Garlic ear drops are an age old treatment for ear infections. You can find these drops at any health food store. The herbs may help to fight the infection and if you heat the oil it will also soothe the pain. These should not be used if the ear drum has ruptured or if your child has ear tubes. You can also make your own garlic oil, read more here.
Homeopathy: There are several homeopathic remedies for ear infections depending on your child’s symptoms. Belladonna, Chamomile, Kalium Sulphuricum and Pulsatilla are all common remedies. Consult with a naturopath or homeopathic doctor for the correct remedy. I also use this book when deciding what remedy to give my children.
Ear Massage: Helps to encourage draining of the Eustachian tubes. To learn more about ear massage go here.
Acupuncture: Balances meridians in the body and also increases immune function. Pediatric acupuncturists can use gentle pressure instead of needles for little ones.
Increase Intake of Nutrient Dense, Clear Fluids: Make a pot of magical BONE BROTH for healing. Whenever my kids are sick I immediately put a pot on the stove. Packed full of minerals and gut-healing gelatin, bone broth is a powerful, medicinal tool. Use your bone broth to make a healing chicken soup. Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fluids help to thin mucus and unclog tubes, so make sure your child drinks lots of clear fluids when sick.
Increase Intake of Nutrient Dense Foods: Keep the focus on easy to digest, power foods like soups made with bone broth and fresh green smoothies. Keep it simple.
REST: I can’t emphasize enough the important of rest when your child is sick. Rest allows our immune systems to work at optimal levels. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep at night and stays home from school during the day when he/she is sick. This allows your child to heal more quickly and also keeps them from spreading viruses to others.
Let the Fever Do the Work: Fevers mean our body is healing. When you bring a fever down with drugs the body’s natural healing system is impaired and it is harder for your body to heal. This is age old wisdom that is finally getting mainstream attention. When fever strikes, drink fluids, rest, cuddle and let the fever do the work.
Green your Space: Many children with recurring ear infections have environmental allergies. You can help lower inflammation by greening your living space. Use Hepa air filters, non-toxic cleaner and personal care products, non-toxic cookware, etc. To find out more about clean indoor living visit the Environmental Working Group.
Practice Positive Intent: Never doubt the power of the mind to heal the body. If your child is sick, and scared of his symptoms, his body is more likely to experience a stress response and lowered immune function. Let your child know that he is strong and his immune system is working hard to heal him. Keep your child calm and focused on the good work his body is doing in the name of healing! The more your child believes in the body’s ability to heal, the more empowered (and powerful!) he becomes.
Foods to decrease or eliminate during ear infections.
When your child is suffering from an ear infection, you want to feed them in a manner that lowers inflammation and supports immune function. You do not want your child eating inflammatory, mucus-forming foods because these foods will contribute to mucus production in the body—the worst thing for a child with clogged ears!
Foods to eliminate during an ear infection:
Dairy: Dairy is mucus-forming in the body. You want to stay far away from dairy during an ear infection. For kids with recurring ear infections–you might consider removing dairy permanently. If I had a dollar for every child with recurring ear infections who was sensitive to dairy—I’d be a RICH woman. I see it over and over again! Dairy sensitivities are different than dairy allergies and your pediatrician may not know the difference, for more information read this article.
Sugar: Sugar lowers immune function. It is considered an “anti-nutrient” because in order for your body to process sugar, it needs to use up nutrients in your body. It’s best to decrease or eliminate sugar when your child is sick. For more information about sugar and immune function, read this article.
Gluten: How could I write an article about nutrition without mentioning GLUTEN!??!! Gluten is a large protein that is difficult to digest. Gluten is inflammatory and these days, while it’s not genetically modified, it’s hybridized in a way that our bodies have trouble digesting it. When a child is sick, the gut lining becomes more permeable and sensitive. For this reason, gluten is a good thing to remove during times of illness. Also, gluten is a protein MANY people are sensitive to, so for children who have recurring ear infections, try eliminating gluten altogether.
Supplements to consider for healing.
There are many supplements to consider when your child has an ear infection. Below is an extensive list of supplements we have used in the past, however, I highly suggest working with a holistic health practitioner to develop the correct protocol for your child. You should not use all these supplements at once.
Vitamin D: To help support immune function during healing.
Omega-3 fats: To help support immune function. We use Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil.
Quercitin: May help to support sinus health.
Probiotics: It is supremely important to increase your child’s probiotic intake during an ear infection. Make sure you choose a high quality supplement that has a high adherence rate. More on probiotics here. You can also get probiotics through fermented foods and beverages.
Vitamin C: Buffered vitamin C is a great choice as it is easy on the tummy. We use a powdered supplement and add it to smoothies and fresh green juices.
Echinacea and Goldenseal: These herbs support the immune system and are part of our preventative routine during cold and flu season.
Oil of Oregano: Powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial. This is a staple in my first aid kit. Oil of Oregano is very strong and should be used with care. This supplement is for internal use. Please work with a holistic practitioner for dosage.
Garlic: A natural remedy and immune boosting powerhouse, but kids may not want to eat raw garlic! I have had success chopping garlic up finely and my son swallows it like pills. Best to do with a meal as garlic can be hard on the tummy.
Considerations for recurring ear infections.
If your child has recurring ear infections, they have likely tried several rounds of antibiotics and they may even have ear tubes in place. When the tubes don’t work your doctor may even talk to you about adenoid surgery! These options treat a symptom, NOT the underlying cause (inflammation). Luckily, there are alternatives to consider if your child continues to have ear infections.
1) Make sure your child is well nourished. According to Elizabeth Lipski, PhD CNC, author of Digestive Wellness for Children, deficiencies in the vitamins A, C, E, zinc and essential fatty acids can increase the chance of ear infections.
2) Have your child tested for food allergies and food sensitivities. Your child should be tested for both IgE AND IgG antibodies, and potentially IgM and IgA antibodies as well. Dairy products are often the biggest offender for children with ear troubles. A naturopath or holistic practitioner will be able to do the correct testing. Conventional doctors often only test for IgE antibodies and usually IgG antibodies are the biggest problem for these kids.
3) Consider doing an elimination diet with children to lower overall inflammation and also identify problem foods. You may also work with a holistic nutritionist to help repair the digestive tract with a gut-healing protocol.
4) Consider environmental allergies as a possible trigger. Have your child tested and work to clean and green your living space.
What to do if your child takes antibiotics.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our kids may have to take antibiotics. If your child does take antibiotics, make sure you compliment the prescription with a round of probiotics to replenish the good bacteria in the gut and to increase immune function for the future. Also focus on anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense foods and consider immune boosting supplementation when appropriate.
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What home remedies do you use for ear infections???
Disclaimer: This post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure or diagnosis. Please see your health care practitioner for more assistance.