It’s true that about half of all ear infections are caused by viruses, which don’t need—and won’t respond to—antibiotics, as the body usually clears up viral infections on its own. Still, children with viral or bacterial ear infections can all experience significant pain and distress. One of the most effective natural therapies for ear pain is made from garlic, olive oil, and herbs, such as mullein flower or St. John’s wort, which have natural anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. This herbal ear oil mixture can be purchased at most health food stores, and you can also make your own version in a pinch: Crush garlic in several tablespoons of olive oil that’s room temperature, and then place 2 to 3 drops directly into the ear canal of the affected ear as often as needed for pain relief.
Massaging the neck lymph nodes with an essential oil can also help. Mix a drop of lavender with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and warm it up by rubbing your hands together. Massage from the front of the ear down the jaw and neck, and also massage from the back of the ear down the neck toward the chest. This can help improve the drainage of stagnant fluid (fluid that doesn’t move is more likely to attract bacteria) away from the ears, one of the main causes of the pain.
If the ear pain worsens significantly, lasts longer than 48 hours, or if it’s associated with fever or vomiting, seek medical attention; these ear infections are more likely to be bacterial, especially in children under 2, and may warrant antibiotic treatment.
Lawrence D. Rosen, M.D., is the founder of the Whole Child Center in Oradell, New Jersey, one of the first green, integrative primary care practices in the U.S.
Have a question for Dr. Rosen? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.