An ear infection is more often than not caused by either a virus or a bacterial infection. Either of those two things will affect the middle ear, which is the spot directly behind the eardrum.
The middle ear contains the majority of the tiny bones of the ear. This makes it a painful and irritating place for an infection of the sort. While ear infections can be found in adults, children are more likely to experience one. Small children, in particular, are especially prone to ear infections.
Ear infections can occur at any section of the ear—the inner, outer, or middle. With such, it is important to note that middle ear infections are the most common, and are generally what people and doctors mean when they say “ear infection.”
What Causes an Ear Infection?
The buildup of fluids in this middle ear is the reason for the pain. The fluids cause inflammation, which brings about a sharp feeling of pain in the middle ear. This can be hard for a young child to cope with.
Managing the pain and soothing the symptoms are usually the only way to treat an ear infection. This is because they usually go away and heal on their own—despite how long it might seem.
A strong immune system can, for the most part, fight off the infection.
Ear Infection Symptoms
An ear infection usually feels like it is inside your ear, right at the eardrum; however, it is directly behind the eardrum. It can vary from a sharp pain to a dull throb and will often cause surrounding areas pain.
These areas include the sinuses, head, eye, and throat. Usually, these are all on one side of the face. This is due to, as will be mentioned, nerve problems due to the inflammation of the ear.
In most cases, as soon as the infection sets in, the symptoms hit immediately. If left untreated, the infection should eventually go away on its own, it will just be a time filled with discomfort.
If symptoms persist for more than a few days, seeing a doctor is the recommended course of action.
1. Ear Pain
Perhaps the most obvious symptom that comes with an ear infection is pain. This is particularly hard for children. The pain generally worsens when lying down, so they may find it difficult to sleep it off.
It is recommended to prop them up on some pillows so that they are not lying flat. The pain should then lessen and allow them to get some relief through sleep. While it is the most common symptom, it is not one that should be overlooked.
As previously stated, if ear pains persist for more than a few days, a doctor or health care practitioner should be consulted.
2. Difficulty Sleeping
As previously mentioned, the sufferer will likely experience increased ear pain when lying in a horizontal position. This makes it very difficult for a person to get the rest they need so that their immune system can fight off the infection.
Often, the patient will experience a loud beat as their ear throbs. The pain may also become sharper than normal. Lying at a minimum of a 40-degree angle is thus recommended.
3. A Decrease in Hearing Ability
As is a natural progression from the pain, the sufferer may experience a temporary and slight loss of hearing in the affected ear. An earache from where the pain is stemming from often feels like the ear is vibrating.
This can have an effect on outside noises entering the ear. In addition, the way in which the infection starts can also be a sign of a potential decrease in hearing ability.
The inflammation can act as a buffer between the ear and the outside world. This would mean that any sound waves entering into the middle ear could be changed.
The buildup of fluids inside the ear cavity could also be the reason for the, once again, temporary hearing deficiency. [R]
The ear infection, just like any other infection, has the capacity to cause a fever. This means an internal body temperature of 38°C (100°F) or higher.
This symptom is significantly more common in children than it would be in adults. This is due to the weakened state of the child in comparison to a fully grown adult.
Fevers from earaches should be fought in a regular way. This includes breaking it with sweat or taking usual fever remedies.
5. Loss of Balance
Especially prevalent in children, a loss of balance could be seen as a result of the ear infection. The pain could be causing this. It can be disorienting, especially when the infection is only on one side of the head.
The thumping sound residing in the ear may be a cause. The disorientation could also be as a result of the slight loss of hearing. This would be disorienting for anyone, let alone a child who falls over at the best of times.
6. Acting More Irritable than Usual
This symptom is mostly seen in young children who are inexperienced with pain and find themselves unable to cope.
While an ear infection is more often than not harmless, it can be hard for a child to deal with. They may cry and scream and be more irritable than usual. Patience is advised since their ear is in pain.
Lying down for a nap is often hard and should not be enforced unless using the propped-up position described earlier. Horizontal lying causes even more pain, and so it is not always the child’s fault when they are being moody.
The child will eventually return to normal as the infection goes away and the internal and painful swelling goes down.
How to Treat Naturally
If a high and prolonged fever occurs, a doctor is always the best course of action. However, some antibiotics and meds such as Tylenol could actually serve to prolong the healing process.
It is for this reason that natural remedies are a good idea to look into, especially in irritated children.
1. Breastfeed Children Through Infancy
Except in cases where it can’t be helped, babies should be breastfed for at least 6 months after birth. Breast milk will give them the antibodies they need to be able to properly fight off infections (e.g. ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal). [R]
Breastfeeding helps to get a baby’s digestive system working smoothly and provides him his first—and easiest—immunization. Infants who are not breastfed are starved of the right nutritional requirements and are much more likely to get sick. [R]
2. Neem Oil
Q-tips are no longer recommend as being safe to be put inside your ear. Hence, wrap a piece of tissue around a matchstick (or similar), dip it in the neem oil and wiggle it inside your ear. The healing process should start from there on.
3. Ice Pack
Holding an ice pack up to the ear may work to relieve the symptoms. It does so by numbing the pain and speeding up the healing process by reducing inflammation. The cold, placed close to the infection, can also help combat the swelling.
4. Crushed Raw Garlic
Recent studies by Washington State University have shown the garlic can actually work 100 times better than popular antibiotics. This is at fighting infection and speeding up the healing process. [R]
Killing bacterial strains is one of garlic’s main properties, and so ingesting raw garlic is one of the best ways to fight an ear infection.
Note that a whole clove must be chopped or crushed in order to combine alliin and alliinase to form allicin. Allicin has the healing properties associated with garlic. [R]
5. Massage with Essential Oils
To promote drainage in the ear as well as to help improve circulation in the blood vessels, massaging could be key. It is recommended to massage your oil of choice (thyme, peppermint, rosemary, oregano, etc.) around the ear and surrounding areas such as the neck and face.
Facilitating circulation in the blood flow could help speed up the healing process. Proper drainage of the fluids could result in temporary pain relief.
6. Elderberry Syrup or Tea
Elderberry has components that combat infections. It could also help in the prevention of inflammation, and is a great way to naturally care for the immune system.
In contrast to cold, warmth can also work to relieve some of the symptoms of an ear infection. It loosens up fluids and can help improve circulation in the ear. Either through a hot water pack or a sack of rice that has been cooked, applying heat to the ear may be beneficial.
If using a rice sack, the outside should be either wool or cotton to be more effective. Filling the sack with sea salt would be just as effective. Placing the heated item on the ear that has been affected will help to relieve the pain.
8. Tea Tree Oil
Health professionals recognize tea tree oil as a suitable natural antibacterial. Warm 1-2 drops of tea tree oil and combine with a carrier oil such as warmed olive oil.
By applying this mixture into the ear and letting it sit for about 5 minutes, it could help fight an ear infection. [R] Repeat 1-2 times per day for three days.
9. Basil Leaf Juice
Do not put this inside the ear. By crushing basil leaves and extracting their juice, the herb can be beneficial in fighting an ear infection. Applying it around the outside of the ear could help combat inflammation and swelling found in the ear.
What to Eat?
The magnesium content found in bananas is high enough to make a significant difference in the health of a person’s ears. The function of the magnesium in the ears is to expand the blood vessels. [R]
This expansion can be good for hearing and preventing hearing loss. What happens is that these expanded blood vessels promote better circulation. With better circulation comes better hearing and overall ear health.
There are numerous health properties found in fish that can have a positive effect on the ears. Trout, salmon, and tuna are all examples of fish with health benefits such as omega-3.
The fatty acid of omega-3 can help with prevention against hearing loss. Studies have found that diets with regular omega-3 intake keep better hearing for longer.
The vitamin D also found in fish can help strengthen the bones in your ear, preventing hearing loss. It can also be a blockage against infection.
Dark Chocolate or Cocoa
The mineral zinc found in extremely dark chocolate is known to aid in a boost of the immune system. [R] In this way, it can help prevent an infection, especially one in the ear, where zinc tends to target.
The content of vitamin C found in organic strawberries is the perfect amount to help combat ear infections. It is often recommended by health practitioners to children when trying to overcome an earache.
Raspberries contain generous amounts of fiber, potassium, manganese, and folate. These are all known to work together in order to help the immune system fight or prevent infection.
What to Avoid?
It is never a good idea to eat oily foods when dealing with an ear infection. The oils will cause ear wax to grow and build up.
This prevents aeration and could potentially cause swelling to grow. It is best to stick to fresh, healthy foods with lots of minerals to help lower the risk of pain.
High Salt Content
With an ear infection, it is best to avoid foods with high salt content. This is due to the way in which the salt affects the body.
High salt contents may result in a buildup of pressure where the fluids are stored in the inner ear. This pressure has been known to fluctuate, thus increasing symptoms of the ear infection.
Sugary foods such as sweets or soft drinks may also have an adverse effect on the buildup of fluids inside the ear.
They may improve the balance of these fluids caused by the ear infection, increasing the length of time before the infection can heal.
Naturally sweet foods such as organic fruits or vegetables can provide the same sugary taste with less risk. They also can provide the nutrients needed to naturally combat the infection through a boost in the immune system.
Nuts with a higher fat content have the ability to worsen an ear infection. This is not the case for everyone, but if eating nuts make your symptoms worse than this could be why. They may also trigger migraines.
Foods with a high quantity of Tyramine such as cheese and sausage can have an impact. They may also trigger migraines or worsen the ear infection.