BEST Natural home remedies for an ear infection – what you can do NOW and to be prepared for next time a kid or an adult has an earache. Medically reviewed by Sheila Kilbane, MD.
I didn’t think I’d ever fit this neatly into the “nuts” or “off the grid” category. I’ve always been a rebel, but never like this.
My 4-year-old son woke up Friday morning around 5 a.m. with pain, that by 7:00 he could articulate as being in his ear after coming to our room three times. He is a tough kid, so I knew that he was really in pain when he couldn’t stop whimpering, and the nail in the coffin was that he said he wouldn’t care if we missed school to go to the doctor. Out the door we went!
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some drugs to make him feel better.
I wanted to know what was wrong and how to fix it, and I wanted it taken care of NOW.
Katie here, interrupting because I was so curious why some kids seem to get ear infections over and over, to the point of needing surgery and tubes in their ears! I wanted to know WHY? I interviewed Dr Sheila Kilbane to ask this and other questions about how diet might affect this, and what we can do at home to help our kids in the throes of an ear infection.
Dr. Kilbane’s amazing course will help you do “root cause” detective work with your kids and figure out how to systematically get them through “common childhood illnesses” like constipation, asthma, bedwetting, recurrent ear infections, eczema and other skin rashes. Find out more here.
An ear infection is not something to be taken lightly. They are really, really painful, as I learned when I got my first (and only) ear infection as an adult when my son was a baby. In a twist of fate, I got the ear infection when it would have been common for him, and I had been teething for a few years – cutting my wisdom teeth – when my kids should have been the ones with new pearly whites. Instead of living vicariously through my children, they’re living vicariously through me – in the pain category!
After diagnosis and prescription, I wanted the quick fix so badly I even tried to go to the closest possible pharmacy on the way home. The mechanical drawer at the drive-through was broken, and my son said he’d rather wait the 20 minutes to get to our end of town than get out of the van and go in.
By the time he had a snooze on the way home, waited for the prescription to be filled at the pharmacy near our house, and I got both kids bundled up to go, he said he didn’t want the ear drops to relieve the pain instantly. He was feeling fine. I had been uncomfortable about the antibiotics all morning, and with the help of my Twitter community, I had some natural remedies for the ear infection up my sleeve. I couldn’t give him the first dose of antibiotics until I had read a little more and talked to my husband.
The Treacherous Antibiotic Question – Would I use it on the Ear Infection?
I knew that if we started the antibiotic regimen, we needed to finish it. All ten days’ worth. For a pain that had only lasted 2-3 hours, that made me nervous. I was thinking:
- What if he doesn’t need the antibiotic? Maybe we can get over this without it.
- If he has the antibiotic, his natural flora (the balance of good and bad bacteria) will be off, and he’ll be more susceptible to bacterial problems over the next few weeks. We can eat a lot of homemade yogurt, but we already do.
- If he doesn’t neeeeeeed the antibiotic, are we contributing to bacterial resistance if he takes it and shares it with our ecosystem?
- I read that some ear infections are viral and wouldn’t be touched by an antibiotic anyway. The thought of 10 days of medicine for nothing makes me shudder.
- What did our grandparents do before antibiotics? (Husband says: “They were in pain.” I said, “But he’s not anymore. I think they always had some sort of remedy for earaches.” Hubs: “They died a lot sooner.” Me: “Not from earaches!!!”)
- My husband thinks I’m nuts to “experiment” on our kid. Am I nuts?
- If he was in pain, I would give him the antibiotic. Can I get away with waiting since he’s feeling fine?
- Is it a problem to put off the first dose? Now I’ll be a half day or a whole day farther away from healing…
Home Remedy for an Ear Infection
While I waited to make the final decision, I crushed a clove of fresh garlic for each foot and put it in my son’s socks, much to his dismay. And yes, it felt a little like voodoo. Would you do?
Note: Many folks have since told me that raw garlic can be pretty intense, almost abrasive, and that I’m lucky it didn’t hurt my son’s skin. Yikes! I would cut it with oil to do this again, but now I’ve purchased some garlic oil from a health foods store that I use instead.
I crushed more garlic and warmed it with extra virgin olive oil, allowed it to cool to just above body temp, and poured a few drops in his ear. We sang the ABCs twice and he tilted it out. We did that about three times throughout the day. Voodoo? Not quite. EVOO and garlic both have antibacterial properties, and anecdotal evidence confirms that the warm oil also takes away the pain in the short term.
I also wouldn’t let the poor child drink his milk after a Twitter friend mentioned avoiding dairy to avoid ear infections and remembering that one of my milk group ladies doesn’t let her kids have milk when they have colds.
Our house – and my son’s head – smelled like a posh Italian restaurant all weekend. But no one was waking up in the night with an earache, praise be to God.
So, my husband may joke that he’s never heard of someone curing an ear infection by pouring FOOD in their ears, but the medicine remains on the kitchen table while the food in the ear and the socks seems to have done the trick.
I’m No Doctor…Just a Mom
I post this not to teach you anything, but because I’m still in awe that I tried it…and it worked. But don’t skip your medicine on my account – be sure to do your own research and make your own decisions. As for me, my pediatrician is probably reading this. *cringe* I’m wondering what she’s thinking! (I’m still wondering how I feel about the whole thing…)
Hi! I’m Katie, and I’m the chief mess-maker around here trying to journey to better stewardship of my family’s health and the environment – while balancing a budget and limited time (did I mention I have 4 kids?).
I’d love to share more of our family-friendly recipes, science geek research and uber-practical tips with you, and I have a mini eBook with our family’s favorite “party recipes” just for you.
If you like what you’ve read so far, I hope you’ll strap on your seatbelt and join us for the ride:
I Know More Now: My Experience with Home Remedies
Two years and two more ear infections later, this is what else I’ve learned about battling infection naturally:
- A Natural Home Remedies Medicine Cabinet – everything I know!
- Antibiotics vs. Essential Oils – same son had antibiotics for strep, then developed a nasty ear infection immediately following. I have lots of new thoughts on the hazards of antibiotics after that…and we managed to let another prescription hit the garbage instead of my son’s system by using essential oils…
- Note: My post on the potential dangers of essential oils. They can be great if used correctly, but you need to know enough to know what you don’t yet know…
- After the third ear infection that we battled naturally, a double job with two ruptured eardrums, (Here’s the whole story with lots more on antibiotics, GBS tests for labor, ear infections, and strep throat) I recommend:
- USE THE GARLIC (Here’s a recipe for garlic-mullein earache relief oil, which you can make without the mullein if you don’t have any, or buy on amazon)
- Oil of oregano didn’t do it for us this time, and I was SO disappointed. I thought it was supposed to be a very potent antibiotic…? Be sure to use probiotics if you use oil of oregano or any antibiotic, natural or unnatural.
- Warm compresses for pain are the very quickest form of relief. Try a microwavable heat thingy.
- Ruptured eardrums are ok – they may increase the child’s risk of needing hearing aids when they’re elderly, but it needs to happen multiple times to cause that kind of scar tissue. It’s blessed relief when they rupture, actually, because the pressure releases and the germs can come out.
- A friend swears by Hyland’s homeopathic ear drops, (also sold for infants), although the advice came too late for this latest bout. 🙁 Check your local stores as this item can be found in big box shops like Meijer. I’m ordering some from Amazon to have READY for next time!
- The same friend uses olive leaf extract (or here or here) to fight infection, recommended by “her crunchy nurse practitioner friend” and says it’s amazing. (8-10 drops for a toddler, half that for infant, mixed in OJ because it’s yucky tasting)
- Another friend tried Trilight’s ear drops, a company I trust, and I really like them. You can put them inside the ear (but never if there’s any draining!) or on the outside, and that’s a nice choice for the parent and the child, especially if they don’t like the idea of something going IN the ear. These smell really garlicky but they work!!
- A reader recommended mullein, and this one is the brand of garlic oil that worked with the oregano on ear infection no. 2 (and I wish I had used it on no. 3).
- Another friend swears by “onion juice,” which I believe is just food processed raw onion, dripping the juice right into the ear. Don’t quote me on that one. Others say to bake the onion for 30-60 minutes and then squeeze out the juice, or to put the baked onion cut in half, wrapped in fabric, on top of the ear, not inside.
- Get an otoscope so you can confirm the presence of an ear infection and watch it dissipate. It costs less than one visit to the doctor, especially if you include gas.
- Many readers are saying that chiropractics prevents and heals ear infections (and more) better than anything else out there. Body work helps the lymphatic system to drain properly and provides a lot of relief. It’s “on my list” to find a good natural chiropractor.
Book Recommendations from Readers
- Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent’s Guide to Alternative Treatments by Michael Schmidt
- No More Antibiotics: Preventing and Treating Ear and Respiratory Infections the Natural Way
- No More Amoxicillin: Preventing and Treating Ear and Respiratory Infections Without Antibiotics
The Bottom Line on Natural Remedies for Ear Infections
My final wisdom for you on ear infections is this (copied from this post in case you only want the practical stuff, not the story):
- Be prepared. The time to buy a few natural remedies is now, not when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with ear pain. I recommend:
- for ears specifically –
- Get an otoscope
- Hyland’s homeopathic ear drops
- Hear no Evil
- Lympha rub
- or supplies for a homemade earache natural remedy
- Edit: a resource recommended in the comments that just went on my Amazon wish list: Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent’s Guide to Alternative Treatments
- for general infection fighting –
- Propolis spray This stuff is amazing, and my family uses it all year round!! Use the code Katie15 for 15% off your order!!
- some basic essential oils, including tea tree and oregano (Plant Therapy is my favorite brand to purchase) NOTE: Use caution with any essential oils – I don’t know enough to give advice on EOs, that’s for sure. See here for some important reminders from a concerned reader – thank goodness Plant Therapy has aromatherapists on customer service to help answer your questions!
- Scout Out
- Recognize it. If your child is waking up more than once an hour throughout the night, whether they complain of ear pain or not – if they don’t throw up by morning, they probably have an ear infection, especially if they’ve had any sort of cough or runny nose in the last week.
- Hit it early. Don’t wonder if you should use something. As soon as your child wakes up or can’t sleep because of ear pain, hit it hard and fast!
- Wait until morning to consider the doctor’s. There’s nothing a doc can do for immediate relief in the middle of the night anyway. (caveat: Unless there’s a serious reason and your gut says go! Don’t be over stubborn just to be stubborn and avoid modern medicine. There’s a place for everything.)
- Know that any improvement means the body is still fighting. Don’t despair; natural means often take longer than quick-fix medicine, but they should have far fewer negative repercussions.
- Give yourself some grace. If the only conventional medicine you give for an ear infection is children’s acetaminophen, you’re doing just great.
- Pray. The Lord loves your child even more than you do, and you are also His beloved child. Ask Him for help in decision-making and trust that whatever happens, He is sovereign.
Don’t do as I do and throw a fit if you do end up with antibiotics. Just continue to trust, pray, and give probiotics to your child for at least a few months.
What if you’re already using antibiotics (or end up filling the prescription after the natural remedies don’t seem to be cutting it)? Then you switch modes to damage control. Antibiotics are sometimes necessary, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re nasty for the body. Here’s how we are recovering and rebuilding after an antibiotics regimen. (By the way, I hope it goes without saying that you must always, always finish the entire prescription, no matter what…of course newer research might say the opposite. Always always talk to your doctor!)
For your further information, I read the following online:
- How to Rapidly Relieve an Earache
- Garlic Ear Oil
- Fight the Flu with Real Food (something I had bookmarked that reminded me about using homemade bone broth)
- How to Make Elderberry Syrup (again, bookmarked and cursing myself for not ordering some elderberries to make this. It was just *one more thing*.)
- 5 Natural Cold Remedies (simple sick solutions using what you already have in your kitchen)
- How about Pinkeye? You might not have it now, but this is a good one to save for if/when you do need it.
- Should Ear Infections be Treated with Antibiotics?
Other Natural Health Posts:
- Fighting Infection without Antibiotics
- Are Hand Sanitizers Safe?
- Get Rid of Warts Naturally
- Natural Remedies for Ear Infections
- Real Food BRATY Diet
- How We Kicked Whooping Cough
- You Probably Need a Parasite Cleanse
- Natural Pneumonia Treatments For Toddlers
- Natural Remedies for Croup
- 10 Reasons I Drink Bone Broth