My story of fighting infection without prescription antibiotics. How I learned to use natural remedies, homeopathics, and essential oils for ear infections and strep.
There’s little in the world I hate more than antibiotics. They scare me.
Although I understand they have a place and are very important in saving lives in certain situations, I feel like my experience and stories I hear about them have been only the negative:
- causing thrush and harming the newborn nursing relationship
- creating an environment that encourages another new infection
- misuse and overuse fostering bacterial resistance (that post is written by a biologist and I’m so happy to have it on my site, as it is a succinct explanation of “superbugs” in non-scientific terms)
- linked to autoimmune disease
- permanently altering your personal gut flora
- etc, etc, etc.
My Son’s History with Antibiotics
The tip of my “crunchy lady” iceberg poked through the sea of normalcy when I was pregnant with my first child, eight years ago.
At that time, I was an avid recycler, but that was more or less the extent of my “save the earth” efforts. I didn’t go to the doctor much, but that was mostly because it’s an inconvenience, and I wasn’t sick often.
During our Bradley birth classes, I learned about baking with whole wheat flour, butter being better than margarine (I know, I know, but everyone has to start somewhere! Being someone who has formerly used margarine gives me great sympathy for those who are still living in trans fatty ignorance, and I am a better kitchen steward because of it), and of course, natural methods for giving birth.
It was an eye-opening experience and one that resonated truth with me wholeheartedly.
One of my fears about my labor and delivery was the one-two combination of antibiotics and thrush, the sort of yeast infection that bounces from baby to mother via the breast and mouth. It’s awful to get rid of, as I learned from a friend who battled it for months.
It was clear to me that I’d much rather avoid it in the first place, which meant, hopefully, avoiding antibiotics in labor. I’m not a big fan of IVs, anyway.
A positive Strep B test meant otherwise.
Antibiotics During Delivery
Of my three children, only one has had antibiotics at all, although I’ve been Strep B positive for all three pregnancies.
My 13-hour labor with Paul, the oldest, included about seven hours in the hospital and one dose of IV antibiotics, which does pass through the umbilical cord to the baby. What a welcome gift into our society…
I did not get the second dose in before birth, which meant Paul was only “partially protected” from Strep B, which can cause death to infants who contract it while coming through the birth canal.
The percentage chance of the infant getting the disease is very small and the subset of that population who die is even smaller (less than 1% when all is said and done, I believe), but it is a serious risk nonetheless.
Thus, tiny 8-pound Paul’s introduction to the world included a shot of antibiotics within a few hours of being born.
I think back on those two doses of antibiotics quite frequently. The waters of regret are deep, but I try not to beat myself up. I simply didn’t know how much one can advocate for themselves within the medical system. The silver lining is that (a) I learned more before the siblings were born, and (b) I have a story to tell that I hope will help others, including the comparisons:
- My oldest is the only Kimball child to have antibiotics at birth, and the only one whose system continued to be prone to bacterial infections, especially ear infections, that required (term used loosely) further antibiotics later in life.
- I have never felt right about his digestion. Mother’s intuition says that if any of our kids has the genetic tendency toward the autoimmune disease my husband suffers from, it will be Paul who gets Crohn’s.
- As a baby and toddler, he battled mild eczema.
Can all that be attributed to early exposure to antibiotics that wiped out his gut flora? Who knows.
The human body is a mightily complex system without much black and white cause and effect, but I can’t help it. I think it was a very bad thing that Paul had such a powerful drug so early in life. (He’s also the only Kimball kid who was vaccinated more or less on schedule as an infant, so that’s another massive medical difference between the three of them, not to be underestimated.)
EDIT: Please note that Strep B IS very serious and that infections move quickly in infants. If you don’t get antibiotics in labor but are Strep B positive, either because of timing (that’s my real excuse, no time for an IV by the time I got to the hospital for the younger two children’s births) or choice, you really MUST observe the child in the hospital for 48 hours, very, very closely.
The Ear Infections We Battle
I never experienced an ear infection as a kid.
Ironically, when Paul was just under a year and many of my friends’ babies of similar ages were coming down with ear infections, I went for a walk one day and came home with the most horrible ear ache I’d ever felt.
I thought it was a consequence of being too stubborn/stupid to wear something over my ears on a brisk early spring day. Talking with my mom that night, she said my grandma always relied on warm oil in the ear for an ear ache, but I can’t even remember if I tried it.
The next morning, I was at the doctor’s office getting a prescription for antibiotics for a raging ear infection, which I willingly took without a thought.
I also left the house without much thought, showing up at the doc’s in black dress pants and…slippers. I thought you might enjoy that “mommy moment” part of the story. I didn’t get out by myself much when Paul was that young…
Paul had his own first ear infection and antibiotics around 18 months, the beginning of a long story of fluid on the ear that wouldn’t go away, a staph infection in the diaper area, trouble hearing well, and recurrent ear infections. The other Kimball kids have had none of this.
You can read the details of our first attempt to fight an ear infection with natural remedies HERE, when Paul was four years old.
That was the first time (but not the last) that we threw away a bottle of antibiotics.
The Thrill of Victory?
The following fall, he had a double ear infection, walking pneumonia, and double pinkeye, all at the same time. I only vaguely remember that, mostly because I just read about it in this post. I think there must be some sort of trauma-blocking hormones going on there…
Just a few months later in the early spring, the poor kid had a sore throat, threw up once (my neighbor’s textbook indication that someone has strep throat), and after a day or two of feeling yucky, we took him to the doctor’s. They practically diagnosed him with strep before he walked in the door, and the pharmacist took one look at his rosy cheeks and knew he had strep too.
(Inexperienced mamas take note the signs of strep there: vomiting once, rosy cheeks (and red pinpricks on the chest, if I remember right), lethargy, sore throat or neck – but not always! Sometimes it feels fine…)
Feeling that familiar deep disgust for antibiotics, but also feeling pressure of an out-of-state trip the very next day, plus Googling and learning that strep really isn’t something to mess around with, at least with our general level of experience with natural remedies, we gave him the antibiotic regimen.
One day after finishing the 10-day cycle, he came down with a fever, which turned into…guess what? Another raging ear infection.
We filled the prescription for antibiotics for the second time in a month, this time for more super-strength flora-killers than the first round. I also stopped at the health foods store, located providentially just a few blocks from our pediatrician’s office, and bought oil of oregano for the first time.
In the battle of conventional medication vs. natural health, the essential oils won this round, resulting in two more bottles of antibiotics hitting the trash.
The thrill of victory felt good, but mostly we parents were just relieved that we didn’t do anything to harm our child. The responsibility is heavier when you don’t have a medical doctor carrying most of the weight for you. You can read the whole story of my (very) scary foray into home doctoring HERE.
(No comments on the waste of medicine, that’s not the point of the story, and I certainly didn’t want to waste resources…)
And the Agony of Defeat…
Believe it or not, you’re just getting to the story I’m writing this post about, which TriLight Health generously sponsored.
Paul’s last ear infection (that we went to the doctor’s for, ahem) hit him in the right ear at school the day he turned seven years old.
By that afternoon he was sobbing, the pain was so intense. I wanted to cry too, looking at the now rumpled, bright yellow star sticker emblazoned with “It’s my Birthday!” that his first grade teacher had put on his shirt that morning.
It was definitely time for some home doctoring.
Because I knew it was an extremely potent antibiotic, and it was clear we had a bad infection on our hands, I gave him oregano essential oil orally about 5-6 times over the course of a few days. He took one drop each time, mixed with either juice (awful) or in a bit of cod liver oil (better, believe it or not, but still enough to make him cry especially if it touched his lip). Note: I think it’s too strong to give a “hot” oil like that internally, especially for a child, now that I’ve read more about it…You should always read advice from an expert before using even natural home remedies, because just because something is from the earth doesn’t mean you can’t misuse it.
I was also putting oil of oregano mixed with a carrier oil on Paul’s feet regularly, about 4-5 times in these few days, and he was taking probiotic capsules opened up and mixed into his yogurt and applesauce a few times a day. It’s important that if you take any antibiotic oil (oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and more) internally – which is NOT recommended, by the way – that you also follow up with a probiotic, especially after you’ve finished.
To help with the pain, we used the age-old earache natural remedy of garlic oil, which I make by crushing a clove of garlic, heating it gently in olive oil, then pouring a bit in the ear for about 30 seconds while massaging around the ear. Sarah’s version with mullein is much fancier, and probably even more effective! The warm oil definitely gives some relief, enough that my son would ask for it after a while.
We also tried homeopathics like arnica for general pain relief and kept the microwave busy heating our “bed buddy” thingy, like a rice pack. I’ve decided that this is the one reason I’m keeping a microwave in our house, even if I get to relegate it to the basement someday instead of over the stove. The power of heat to relieve pain is intense.
Paul was pretty miserable all day Monday, the day he came home from school, and although I shuddered all the way through reading Erin’s guest post here on “What’s Really in Children’s Medications?” we ended up giving him Tylenol multiple times during the week.
We used it Monday night before bed, Tuesday when the second ear kicked in, and again Tuesday night, then for a middle of night waking…I remember at one point reading the liver damage warnings that kick in at five times in 24 hours. When I realized Paul had been given three doses in 24 hours, that was too close for comfort for me. I hated giving him that stuff, but I hoped it would help us avoid the greater evil of antibiotics.
On Garlic Ear Oil and Ruptured Ear Drums
Our pediatrician says that the garlic oil can’t get through to the inner ear canal where the infection is, so the garlic won’t really do anything as far as healing properties. It’s just the action of the warm oil that soothes the pain temporarily. However, I’m beginning to wonder if she’s mistaken on that one – the skin is very absorbent, and a cut clove of garlic rubbed on the foot can be tasted in the mouth within 10-15 minutes.
If the healing properties of garlic and essential oils can travel through the skin in the foot and up to the mouth, why not through the thin film of eardrum there in the ear? I’m sticking with the garlic (always make sure you don’t get any actual garlic pieces inside the ear and never use on an ear that’s draining).
Speaking of draining, Paul’s right ear did drain, which signifies that the eardrum ruptured, sometime Monday night. A ruptured eardrum sounds like an awful thing, but it allows a release of pressure and a lot of relief from the pain. If the eardrum ruptures many times in one’s life, scar tissue will form that can cause difficulty hearing when elderly. I don’t think we’ve crossed the threshold, thankfully.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Unfortunately Tuesday morning did not bring the “new and improved” Paul we were hoping for, but rather symmetry: the left ear kicked in with an ear ache and infection.
We went to the doctor’s office to confirm what was going on, a bit earlier than I would have wanted in an ideal world for two reasons: Our doctor only works Tuesdays and Thursdays and we have a really good relationship, and because I was feeling uncertain about the drainage.
We came home with a prescription that I was hoping to never fill, and the left ear joined the right in rupturing. How lovely.
By Wednesday, the poor guy was petrified of mom saying, “Let’s take some oil of oregano!” and I decided it was madness. I promised I wouldn’t give him any more by mouth, and I’m glad I did – I’m really uncertain as to whether I’ll ever give a “hot” oil with antibacterial properties orally to anyone in our family. Rubbing on the feet and diffusing into the air are my preferred methods, the more I learn.
Quite honestly, I was shocked and disappointed that after two days of hitting it hard, every few hours and more, the oil of oregano wasn’t even making a dent in the infection. It seems like oregano is really built up as a powerful natural antibiotic, and I’ll admit that perhaps it just needed more time, but after three rough nights in a row, our patience was wearing thin, and oregano was given the boot.
What would be next in our arsenal, I wasn’t sure.
I knew if I Googled “natural remedies for ear infection” I’d get my own darn site, so I was stuck there!
By the afternoon that day (Wednesday), Paul was acting a bit better, and we hoped we had turned the corner. After all, both ears were infected and both had ruptured, so what more could come at us?
Wednesday night Paul was up again, in pain and with a fever. Who needs sleep, right? Not me.
When we woke up Thursday morning, I was ready to call the doctor and ask about an antibiotic. I wasn’t happy, but my husband (who likes sleep even more than I do) said it was pretty clear we needed some help.
I first called at 8:15 a.m., and the office was not yet open, and by 8:35 when I would have called again, everything had changed. His fever had broken, he had a normal appetite, and he was acting like my normal kid again. I never called. He was 100% back to normal that day, including his own belated birthday celebration dinner with our family.
That day, although it seemed like the worst was over, I still wanted to build his immunities and continue to root out the remains of the infection. Since oregano oil was off the table, I turned to NR Glow from TriLight, both because it’s an immune booster and because I noticed “ear infections” on its product description, and also propolis, an all-purpose infection fighter with versatile antibacterial and antiviral properties, used either as oral drops or an external rub. It is very pleasant-tasting compared to the earthy flavor of most herbal tinctures (propolis is not herbs).
Thursday night, we were shocked when he woke up in pain. His fever was also back, about 100.3 or so under the arm. H woke up about five times during the night crying, but always fell back asleep in 5 minutes or less. I had the arsenal out, and he took NR Glow, propolis, drank water, and had the warm pack on his ear at various times during the night.
At 5:00 a.m. when he woke up yet again, we almost gave more Tylenol, but by the time my husband found the bottle and measuring cup, he was back asleep.
Giving Up, Giving In
Every time we thought the poor kid was getting better, he took a turn for the worse. A full five days into the fight against the infection, we had to wave the white flag and fill the prescription.
I hated that the natural life had failed me. I felt like I had worked so hard and used everything at my disposal and yet still lost, and to make matters worse, we had put Paul through the pain of taking oregano oil by mouth – an experience so awful he wrote one of his most passionate pieces of writing this year about it – and also made him live through five days of pain when we could have tackled it more directly after 24 hours.
Our own sleep for the week was just another casualty in the war, as was the fact that he had more doses of Tylenol than I care to count, all hoping we were trading down to a lesser evil compared to antibiotics.
Once we had the prescription filled, I wished we had just done it Tuesday first thing in the morning!
We truly ended up with the worst of both worlds: the consequences of wrecking Paul’s system with antibiotics and the extended time it takes to fight infection naturally.
I felt like throwing in the towel on the whole green thing and just buying a bottle of bleach!
My only victory of the darned ordeal was that I got “the pink stuff” without the pink, avoiding one lousy naughty ingredient for the week.
With a heavy heart and a scowl on my face, I gave Paul the first dose of antibiotics. Friday was just like Thursday – he felt great – and I’m telling you, when you hate antibiotics as much as I do, it feels particularly awful giving them to a well child.
I had actually emailed our doctor that morning but forgot to peek to see if there was an answer before I left to fill the prescription. I don’t know what God’s plan was for this situation, but either I wasn’t praying enough and was being punished or He had a greater goal in mind, because within half an hour after giving Paul that first fated spoonful, I read my email.
She said if the pain was gone, his body was fighting the infection and it wasn’t a lost cause. She was very optimistic about his improvement and pointed out that under-the-arm temps are inaccurate enough that he may not have even had a fever during the night. She thought I should roll with it…
I nearly cried.
I felt like I had just launched a nuclear bomb that would take a week to reach its destination and was impossible to stop, and then found out that I had accidentally aimed a school full of innocent children.
I know that once you start antibiotics, you can’t just stop. We had to finish the regimen, and I was half an hour too late to make the right decision after fighting against them all week.
The antibiotics won this round, and they really hit below the belt. I was defeated in every sense of the word.
The Story Isn’t Over Yet
Antibiotics truly are an evil nemesis.
Two weeks later, just a week after finishing the dosage, which was like eating fire while standing on a bed of nails for me with every spoonful, a new battle began.
Even though we gave Paul probiotics 2-3 times a day the whole time, during and after the antibiotics, he came down with a bad fever, threw up once, and was down and out for the count. (Sound familiar from earlier in the story?)
I expected us to be engaged in battle a full week, honestly, and was determined to give him zero sugar or white flour, ETC.
My husband said, “I hate it when you’re right.”
His symptoms – headache, nausea, ears started hurting, throat hurt to swallow saliva but not water – ticked down the list of strep symptoms from “Dr. Google” perfectly. His throat looked red and irritated with a flashlight to my untrained eye. His fever hit well over 100F, maybe 102. He was pretty miserable.
I dug in my heels and set my jaw for the long haul. There was NO WAY I was letting that child go back on antibiotics! I didn’t care if he did miss another full week of school, right at the end of the year.
I am very stubborn and was not going to feel like a Survivor getting voted out with an immunity idol again.
I had the knowledge, the supplies, and the determination – we were going to beat infection naturally this time!!
I added some garlic drops too, and we used TriLight Health’s Lympha rub drops in his throat right away and then again that night. For coughs, we call that little bottle our “magic drops” because they take away a sleep-stealing cough 98% of the time with one drop. The owner of TriLight says on the product page that he puts a drop or two on the back of his throat every time he feels a throat ailment coming on, and it usually nips it in the bud.
Paul took NR Glow, the herbal immunity booster, a few times during day as well and kept up on probiotics and liquids. We allowed him to eat whatever healthy food sounded good, which was often yogurt. (My parents were visiting, and the poor kid cried Sunday morning when he found out he couldn’t have the special cinnamon toast Grandma makes! I was firm, but felt awful about being the mean momma.)
After the incident two weeks before, I had updated the ear infection post with new recommendations I had gathered during the experience and from friends in the days following as I griped about the darn antibiotics, including a note that I was going to order Hyland’s homeopathic ear drops to be ready for next time. In an uncharacteristic move, I actually did it immediately instead of “putting it on my list,” and a good thing, too. We used them for Paul’s earache at bedtime and gave arnica for his headache. I was not messing around and felt like I was throwing everything at him!
Note: Donielle kindly explained that often, using homeopathics and essential oils together can nullify their effectiveness. Choose one or the other. (Lympha Rub is oils and herbs, so that should be fine with other EOs.)
He slept through the night and was better by mid-morning. Rather than a week, we escaped with only 24 hours engaged in battle against whatever infection had taken root.
Did we cure strep naturally? I have no idea, but we didn’t turn to any conventional (crappy) medicines, so I’m really happy about that. Every illness pushes me to be more well-versed in the art of natural medicine, and for that I’m grateful.
Maybe that was God’s design for the blasted unnecessary antibiotics for the ear infection – to make me grow in my home doctoring knowledge and make my determination steadfast.
Since that victory, we have added to our pile of unfilled prescription sheets and beaten pneumonia twice without antibiotics, plus ear infections in two children, including one more for Paul (most likely).
We’ve added a few remedies to our arsenal, including:
- 1/2 tsp. of whiskey (with honey if needed) for an older child to help sleep through the pain, from the book How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
- TriLight Health’s Hear no Evil, which I really like having around (more than the homeopathic drops, although both are good) because it gives the child a choice: in the ear or rubbed around the ear. There’s a lot of conflicting information about whether anything should ever go into the ear, and you absolutely should not put anything in the ear if there’s a rupture, so I like that I can still use this remedy no matter what. It’s a combination of essential oils and powerful herbs like the mullein Sarah used in her homemade earache remedy.
- We also had TriLight’s Scout Out back on hand, which is used for ear pain as well and has antibacterial properties. I give this at the first sign of a cold, fever, or sore throat nowadays.
- I became more convinced that warm oil is a great technique and a warm pack of some sort is a necessity – this is when I decided that I’d keep a microwave in the house for only this reason!
Our 4-year-old beat what was likely her first ear infection without a doctor’s visit or any conventional medicine. We endured through one very long night for all of us with at least twenty wakings, plus a day on the couch, but with all the resources at our disposal, we managed to kick it and only miss one day of school.
Paul’s bout was also short, and we did end up giving him Tylenol, once, when he just couldn’t fall asleep because of the pain and we had already tried oil, heat, and a bit of whiskey. Personally I would have tried another half teaspoon of whiskey and honey first, but it was my husband’s turn to go up the stairs, and it was the last we saw of Paul until morning.
He fought the fever for a few days, but at least the ear ache, which crippled him into sobs again, dissipated within a few hours even though it did jump to the other ear at one point.
My final wisdom for you on ear infections is this:
- 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
- Hear no Evil
- Lympha rub
- Hyland’s homeopathic ear drops (remember not to use at the same time as EOs)
- or supplies for a homemade earache natural remedy
- Edit: a resource recommended in the comments that just went on my Amazon wish list: Healing Childhood Ear Infections (or Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent’s Guide to Alternative Treatments, a newer book by the same author)
- for general infection fighting –
- some basic essential oils, including tea tree and oregano (Plant Therapy is one place that offers them, but there are many more)
- Scout Out
I am always grateful for the community at Kitchen Stewardship – it’s like having the smartest natural moms in the world all living right next door. I’ve compiled the best natural remedies for 12 of the most commonly discussed ailments here at KS, and am making this resource available for free to all my readers!
Imagine this ebook as a virtual chat over the backyard fence with your own neighbor, a wise older mom who raised a bunch of kids with intention, trying to avoid unnecessary medication and being kind to the earth.
- 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 has your experience – success or failure – been in fighting infections without antibiotics?