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Natural Remedies For Ear Infections

Affiliate Disclosure | in Natural Remedies | by | with 194 Comments


Ear Infections That . . . Aren’t

So, this may be an odd way to start a post on ear infections, but before we get into the nitty gritty of comfort measures and natural remedies, I want to take a moment to discuss one of the most common misconceptions about ear infections.

And that would be . . . the infection part. According to Dr. Allan Lieberthal, pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics new guidelines for diagnosing ear infections, the medical community has contributed to the “over-diagnosis of [ear] infection.” (source)

How does this happen? My good friend and former chiropractor, Dr. Haggerton, explains:

“For those of you who have . . . taken your child into the pediatrician because they are hurting, acting funny, and/or pulling at their ears and the doc looked in their ears with the otoscope and said ‘Yep, it’s red, little Johnny’s got an ear infection. I’ll write you a script for an antibiotic.’

Think about that for a minute, how did the doctor know just off of the color of the tympanic membrane that your child had an infection?!?

They didn’t.”

Lifetime Family Wellness Center: Pediatric Ear Infections

Doctor looking at little girl ear infection

The truth is, a red and slightly bulging tympanic membrane can be a sign that fluid is not draining well, but it’s not necessarily a sign of ear infection. And even if an infection is present, according to CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton most ear infections are viral in nature and won’t respond to antibiotics anyway. (source)

So what will that course of antibiotics really do to help your child? If the earache has been misdiagnosed – absolutely nothing. Or worse, according to Consumer Reports it may actually cause future ear infections! (source)

So if ear infections are over-diagnosed, what else causes earaches? According to Dr. Haggerton . . .

“with children, the eustachian tube (ear canal) is not slanted down like ours as adults.. Their canal is straight across or horizontal, [meaning] your baby doesn’t get much help from gravity to get the fluid to drain out of the lymph nodes and the ears into the throat and out of their body. The problem comes when fluid and congestion build up in the lymph nodes in the neck and throat and cannot be moved or flushed out of the child’s body. That fluid has to go somewhere so if the fluid can’t go back ‘down’, then it will frequently back up into the child’s eustachian tube and cause fluid pressure on the back of the ear drum.”

Lifetime Family Wellness Center: Pediatric Ear Infections


What Causes Fluid To Back Up?

Other than the natural shape of a child’s eustachian tube, misalignments in the head/neck area, teething and/or undiagnosed food sensitivities can cause swelling that prevents drainage. (source) In these cases, the irritation will often have the same symptoms as an infection. Left untreated, fluid buildup can eventually lead to a legitimate infection, but until that point antibiotics will do no good.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

Obviously, the decision making process will be different for every parent. The AAP Guidelines now state that antibiotics should not be prescribed unless there is an obvious ear infection – a very bulging tympanic membrane. If fluid is present some parents might insist on a swab culture to confirm it is bacterial rather than viral before considering antibiotics. If they do, chances are the earache will resolve on it’s own before the results come back. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that may be for the best anyway. Most ear infections – whether truly an infection or not – clear up without any treatment, so they recommend the wait-and-see approach for:

  • Children 6 to 23 months with mild inner ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 F (39 C)
  • Children 24 months and older with mild inner ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than102.2 F (39 C) (source)

Natural Remedies For Ear Infections - According to the lead author of the new AAP guidelines for diagnosing ear infections, doctors routinely over-diagnose ear infections. Since even a legitimate ear infection is more likely to be viral in nature than bacteria, the common use of antibiotics to treat earaches may actually have the unintended effect of CAUSING future ear infections! Here are some natural remedies that may be beneficial while using the "wait and see" approach.

Natural Remedies For Ear Infections

Many who choose the “wait and see” approach recommended by the AAP opt to support the immune system naturally while focusing on comfort measures. For those that prefer to avoid Tylenol and other pain medications that may delay the healing process, here are ideas . . .

*Safety Tip* from Creative Christian Mama: “If there is any puss coming out of the ear, that means the ear drum is perforated (it tore, due to the pressure). It will heal, but DO NOT put anything at all inside an ear that is perforated.”


Garlic & Mullein Oil

According to a recent study conducted by Washington State University, garlic is 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics at killing bacterial strains related to foodborne illness. They also found that it often worked in a fraction of the time.

So what does this mean for ear infections? Nothing directly, but it does make me wonder how effective it is for other strains. Garlic also has been shown to inhibit some viruses, which some feel makes it a better choice than antibiotics, which only cover bacterial infections. (source)

Bonus fact: Garlic contains alliin and allinase. When a whole clove is chopped or crushed these compounds combine to form allicin, a natural anesthetic that can provide a measure of relief while garlic does it’s other magic.

You can find garlic and mullein oil here or possibly at your local health food store. You can also make your own with this recipe. (Note: The article mentions the possibility of adding certain essential oils to the ear drops. I would not recommend that.)

Tip from Creative Christian Mama: Use a dropper to put 2 to 3 drops in the ear. (Sing a song to keep the child distracted, since they will need to lay there for 30 seconds to allow the oil to get all the way in the ear canal.) The warmth of the oil helps to reduce the pain (as does the lavender oil) and can be used once an hour. Use at least four times a day, but preferably six or more, until the child is well.

Essential Oils

Massaging the outside of the ear and face/jaw/neck area with diluted essential oils is thought to encourage good circulation and facilitate normal drainage. “Massage in a downward direction behind the ear on the neck and apply gentle inward pressure in front of the ear toward the cheek (about where sideburns would be).” (source)

Oils often recommended for this purpose are eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, oregano, chamomile, tea tree, and thyme. Here is a guide to diluting oils for massage purposes. Please keep in mind that some oils should not be introduced until child reaches a certain age. There’s a list of kid-friendly essential oils in this post.

Cod Liver Oil

According to Dr. Michael Gerber, “Vitamin A deficiency disrupts the clearing mechanism of the ear.” (source) Adequate levels of Vitamin A have also been found to improve outcomes in other illnesses, such as measles. (source)

Dr. Gerber makes a distinction between betacarotene and true Vitamin A, which is only found in animal products such as fermented cod liver oil. (Read more about fermented cod liver oil here. You can also find information on where to buy it on my shopping list under the Superfoods & Supplements section.)


The majority of our immune system is found in the digestive tract, so supporting it with beneficial bacteria is recommended by many practitioners. If ear inflammation is due to food sensitivities, it may also be beneficial in helping to moderate and even reverse those sensitivities over time using protocols such as the GAPS Diet. (I talk about my favorite probiotics on the Superfoods & Supplements section of this page)

Chiropractic Care

According to Dr. Haggerton, “The lymph nodes need properly functioning muscles to contract with your baby’s head movements in order to flush out lymph fluid and congestion that pools in the area.  If the bones in the top of your baby’s neck become restricted (due to birth, or any other type of physical stressor), the muscles around that area cannot contract and work correctly.  If the muscles don’t contract perfectly, then the body has a hard time flushing out the fluid in the ear canals.  Adjustments also boost the immune system and help the body to function optimally.  Read more research on chiropractic and ear infections here.” (source)


Elderberry Syrup

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, elderberry may have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Among the various natural remedies for ear infections, it is a favorite with those who want to support the immune system naturally. (Buy it here or make your own.)

Colloidal Silver

Recommendations seem to hover around one to three drops – warmed before use – inserted twice a day. Holistic Squid has a great article on why it is safe but should be used sparingly.

 Onion on wooden board

The Onion Remedy

We’ve all heard about using fresh onions for earaches. The warmth is said to provide comfort and assist with circulation. Here’s one method to consider:

“Use one brown or yellow onion, chopped in half. Bake it face down on the oven rack at 350 degrees until you can just start to smell the onion, and it’s just beginning to recede. You want it to be just hot enough that you won’t burn the ears – test by touching as you would formula. Have the person lie down on their back with their head supported by a pillow. Place the onions over the ears like ear muffs, and then wrap them completely using a natural cloth such as a 100% cotton towel, or 100% wool scarf. You do NOT want to have the chemical fumes from an acrylic fabric going into the ear canal. What you are doing is wrapping the top of the head, covering the onions, and then keeping it sealed by wrapping it loosely around the neck. This is why a wool scarf (if you or they are not allergic) works really well. Leave on for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until onion cools. Repeat again as needed.” (source)

More Comfort Measures

Whether it be via the onion remedy or the measures below, warmth does wonders for getting the lymphatic fluid moving and easing the discomfort of earaches. Fill a cotton or wool sock with rice or sea salt and bake until warm. Place it on the affected ear (testing first to make sure it won’t burn) until it cools. Repeat as often as desired.

Note: Salt is my preference because it has antimicrobial properties, but it’s also a lot more expensive. For that reason, rice works just fine for us.

When To See A Doctor

There are times when contacting a doctor is necessary. According to Dr. Allan Lieberthal, whom I mentioned earlier is the pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics new guidelines on diagnosing ear infections, the “Basic rule of thumb for parents is: Don’t call the doctor for an antibiotic unless the child has a fever over 102 degrees or severe symptoms of cough, runny nose and ear pain, . . . Instead, a parent can safely wait 48 to 72 hours, giving pain medicine as needed, and watching to see if those symptoms simply go away. If the fever rises or the cough and runny nose last for several days, that’s when the child needs to visit the doctor for a full evaluation.”

Other popular remedies for kids:

Have you tried any natural remedies for ear infections?

How did they work for you?

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Please see my full disclaimer here.

photo credit: Darwin Bell

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194 Responses to Natural Remedies For Ear Infections

  1. lyban says:

    thank you very much for such a wonderful article. all instructions are working and helpful.

  2. Enrique says:

    Many years ago I had an ear infection and the pain was unbearable. My son had to take me to the emergency room of the nearby hospital. The doctor prescribed some ear drops and painkillers (I don’t remember what it was, except the pain!) and a couple of days, no more pain.

    A few days ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with some uncomfort on my left ear, I cleaned with H2O2 and an earbud. In the morning I woke up and still feeling uncomfort on the ear. By evening time the pain increased then I used the web to search and found this web page. I had only garlic available in the kitchen so I decided to get one and cut it in a cone or wedge and inserted in the ear. The sting (feeling) was strong but bearable. I kept it for about 15 minutes then I remove it. The pain subside. I place the wedge garlic in the refrigerator and went to sleep. In the morning I was feeling a little pain in the ear but not too strong. I took the garlic wedge from the refrigerator and place it in the ear and the feeling was nice because it cools too! 15 minutes later I remove it and carried on with my daily chores. I did the same in the evening and again when I woke up.
    No more pain. Garlic wedge (cone) in the ear, works for me!

  3. sri says:

    my baby 2 weeks old, she had ear infection , fluid came from her ear and bad smell also came from fluid..plz suggest any treatment

    • Cheri says:

      A child’s eardrum will burst from extreme fluid build-up. This is a good thing! The release of pressure will relieve a lot of pain for the child. But the foul odor means it’s a bacterial infection, and the child should be seen by a physician (preferably a Pediatrician). **Don’t put anything, especially drops of fluid, into the affected ear.** There is a hole in the eardrum, and putting any drops in the ear will cause the liquid to flow through the middle ear, into the eustachian tube, and into the throat. You don’t want to the child to aspirate (inhale, breathe in) any of that into the lungs.

      One huge concern about ear infections in children (the kind that are severe, as in a burst eardrum and leaking fluid – especially with foul odor) is meningitis, encephalitis, and even something like Scarlet Fever due to the bacteria entering the blood system. These are serious, life-threatening diseases.

      I agree with the posted remedies, and other natural approaches to ear infections in children. When the child’s fever of 102+ doesn’t resolve after 48-72 hours, and/or if fluid has leaked out of the ear – especially foul-smelling – it’s time to see a pediatrician.

  4. Tanessa says:

    My one month old son was diagnosed with an ear infection and pink eye today. We are certain the pink eye is bacterial as dad got sick first and was treated for ear infections, sinus infection, and bacterial pink eye. I got pink eye as well. Then my one month old started with symptoms. He had nasal congestion too. Could the nasal congestion have caused a misdiagnosed ear infection? They prescribed antibiotics but pink fruity flavor for my ebf one month old. I am not okay with pink fruity oral antibiotics for him, especially being ebf. I was thinking of trying breastmilk, but recently made garlic oil for myself as my ear started feeling achy. Is garlic oil safe for a one month old?

  5. lana says:

    My 20 mo son had swollen lymph nodes under his left year for the third day now. I took him to his pediatrician yesterday and the diagnose was the year infection in both years even no fever is present. We ended up with an antibiotic being prescribed. This is his second ear infection, the first one was last month and he took the antibiotics for ten days.
    I’m using the garlic oil since I saw the swollen lymph nodes and they seem smaller now but still there. He is not bothered by them anymore, very active kid. I am wondering if I can continue the natural remedies and not using the antibiotic this time…

  6. kumbulla says:

    Hello everybody! i want to help me for my son. He is 5years old. his ear do infection often. yesterday i was at the doctor and the doctor said me that my son in one of my ear has blocked because of fluid. doctor give me some medication antibiotic and some drop to put down his ear.anddocor saind in case that this doesnt sokve this problem (fluid) we have to put the tube (surgery) in order to go fluid. i am very concerned. :( :(
    Can you help me to tell me a recipe that can help to drain this fluid or to gone this fluid. my son has hearing problem because of this fluid.

    i am wating for your response
    sorry for my english,

    • Cheri says:

      Tubes in the ears are a great solution for fluid build-up in the ears that can lead to frequent infections. They are easily placed, and fall out on their own in about a year.

    • Nancy says:

      See a chiropractor. They work wonders for ear infections and drainage.

  7. 7 Natural Home Remedies For A FeverMommypotamus | says:

    […] that most of the time it’s best to let small illnesses run their course. Here are some natural remedies many parents have found helpful for earaches.  But I’m getting off topic here – back […]

  8. Amanda Jenkins says:

    My son is diagnosed with 22Q.11 Deletion Syndrome and was born with a cleft palate, small chin, tiny ear canals, and swallowing issues. I have opposed ear tubes previously, however our ENT insisted that his anatomy needed them. Well the 2nd set fell out. :-/ I’m hoping to try these remedies before another set is tried. Only 1 ear gives us problems when he gets a cold. Started culturing milk kefir too. Thanks for the article.

  9. Mary_SM says:

    How about olive oil? When I was a kid, my grandmother used to dab a few drops of olive oil on a piece of cottonwhool and carefully put it in my ear (as if it were a headphone, so to speak). It worked fine for me during my childhood.

    • Joe says:

      see that’s what I was telling everyone and they say they never heard of such a thing heat up olive oil and a couple of warm drops and it works …. It worked for me and I’m 54 and I’m still hear ,,,, haha ,,,,and no ear problems

      • Kim says:

        When my children were small I would simmer garlic in olive oil over the stove, strain the oil and put a few drops in the infected ear and cover with a piece of cotton. Seemed to always work!

  10. Anna says:

    I always use garlic for me and my child. It works.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    there’s evidence to show that food allergies like gluten, milk, eggs , peanuts .dust , pollen. And pets could cause a ear infection , dr . Said just like your nose backs up from allergies , your ear can too but the problem is your pedetrician and ENT Dr. Aren’t familiar with allergies to to be the root of the problem to cause ear infections and your allergist aren’t familiar with your ears . So you need like me as My 2 year old girl is suffering – 4th antibiotic doesn’t work well enough – recurring ear infections . So we’re trying a chiropractor to adjust her to drain the ears , also going to do the cool mist vapor ,omega 3 s and vitamin C , limit her sugar but that’s hard , watch her gluten intake , give her allergy meds for now . The LORD Jesus is our healer – medicine is good but God is great – wisdom comes from God . Pray everyone is blessed and our kids get better. Trust Jesus / do our part and God will bless us .

  12. Millie says:

    Thanks for sharing this very informative article!

  13. Elizabeth Cotten says:

    My ear began hurting earlier today (I’m prone to ear infections unfortunately) and I hate taking medicine! So I used a combination of rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, and lemon EOs along my eustation tubes, and where my mutton chops would be. Also along my outer ear. I’m making garlic oil now, and just took a dose of elderberry syrup. Now, the EOs are already being ytto help, but the elderberry and garlic won’t hurt!


    • Elizabeth Cotten says:

      Fyi, I went to the dr. It turns out I have an infected tooth! But my tooth doesn’t hurt! So an ear infection may not always be the cause of an earache!

  14. Patti says:

    I have had blocked fluid in my ear canal it seems for over 6 weeks I have drops and yesterday the lady doctor recommended Cerumal ear drops which I am going to acquire at Dis-Chem Store. I am over 60 years old.

  15. Mama says:

    My little girl is unvaccinated at age 2 1/2. She has never had an ear infection.

  16. Carla says:

    You can try a warm tea bag behind the ear to help fluid drain. It often works for my little guy who almost always gets ear pain with his colds.

  17. Lina says:

    My 20 month old baby had his first ear infection when he was 5 months old. He had pus oozing out of his right ear. After that whenever he got a cold he got an infection, that was nearly every month. His ENT gave him a decongestant for 2 months and asked us to do an impedance audiometry test. Now we’ve done 3 impedance tests and a BERA test too. All the impedance test show fluid build up in the left ear however the BERA showed normal earing. Please can anybody suggest any effective remedy before going in for surgery. THANKS

  18. Irma says:

    JEFFREY…..Thank you for your wisdom. Our only hope in the end is that we know the LORD, who helps us get through ALL of life’s problems. GOOD BLESS YOU ALL! ! ! ! ! !

  19. anil says:

    I am also faceing this problem it very hazardous for me

  20. angelia says:

    So if my.daughter has a little ear drainage it’s ok? Every now.and.then. I.see she has wax that is a little sticky and wet in.her ear that is easy to.get out. She 12months?

  21. Megan says:

    I put a drop of tea tree essential oil on cotton and set the cotton in my son’s ear for 10 or 15 minutes. This helps immensely as a decongestant.

  22. Heather says:

    Did you also know that a possible side effect of one of the antibiotics often prescribed for ear infections is hearing loss? Yeah, my father in law did not either until he suffered a little hearing loss following a round of antibiotics for an ear infection just a few years ago. After realizing he could not hear as well out of that ear, he went back and read the insert for that antibiotic and hearing loss was a possible side effect. :(

    • ElleDub says:

      Hi Heather. I know that this is a late response but I was looking for some things myself. My 89 year old father was in the hospital and had a surgery that was ineffectual, i.e. – they were not going to be able to save his life. They (hospital staff/hospice) said that he would have about 4-months tops and then discussed with me, the option of using a high dose of certain antibiotics for three days to see if the could curtail some of the issues and help stop the pain they caused. Approx. 10-days later he was stone deaf in both ears. The antibiotics did NOTHING – EXCEPT make a him totally deaf when he needed to hear our voices the most over the next 3-months. No-one (doctors, nurses or hospice) ever mentioned anything about that particular side effect, although they went over every other possible side effect. The damage done to your father in-law’s ear is not reversible. I am saddened that you even have this event to discuss. I think to myself, very often, about how many people have this happen. It’s disturbing.

  23. Wendy says:

    My daughter had an ear infection that manifested very quickly. She was balled up in tears from the pain and it was after hours. After calling some friends, I was given a bottle of Muellin Garlic oil. Within about two hours the pain had subsided enough for her to get some sleep. By morning, her ears felt fine. I continued the drops for another couple days and have used it a few times since then. I will never give my daughter another antibiotic for ear infections.

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