Earaches can be debilitating, but they don’t always warrant antibiotics. Prescribing guidelines for ear infections have changed in the last 5 years, and your child might not even be prescribed antibiotics. Not all ear infections are bacterial or need prescription medication. In fact, you could find all the relief you need in your home with treatments such as:
- over-the-counter pain relievers
- cold or warm compresses
- olive oil
- tea tree oil
- neck exercises
- hydrogen peroxide
Here are 12 home remedies and over-the-counter treatments for earaches.
OTC pain relievers
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to control pain associated with a painful type of ear infection called acute otitis media (AOM). They’re safe to use with or without antibiotics, but be sure to follow dosing instructions on the label. These medications can also help lower a fever.
Talk to your doctor about the appropriate dose for children. Children and infant versions are available for many over-the-counter pain relievers. It’s unsafe for children under 16 to take aspirin.
People often use ice packs or warm compresses, like a heating pad or damp washcloth, to relieve pain. The same can be done for ear pain. This method is safe for both children and adults. Place the ice pack or warm compress over the ear and alternate between warm and cold after 10 minutes. If you prefer either cold or warm, you can use just one compress.
The use of olive oil for earaches is a folk remedy. There’s no hard scientific evidence to prove that drops of olive oil in your ear canal can soothe ear pain. But putting a few warmed drops of olive oil in the ear is safe and could be moderately effective, according to AAP. It’s still a good idea to discuss this method with your doctor first, especially for children.
Make sure the olive oil is no warmer than your body temperature by using a thermometer. This will help you avoid burning the eardrum.
Naturopathic ear drops are made from herbal extracts. They can be found online and in some drug stores. One study found that drops containing herbal extracts in a base of olive oil could be just as, or even more, effective as traditional over-the-counter ear drops.
If you go to the chiropractor for adjustments, you may find that your appointment can soothe your earache as much as your back pain. One study found that 93 percent of participants had improvement following chiropractic adjustments, and 43 percent of them after only one or two sessions.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has powerful antifungal, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. These can be applied as ear drops to reduce pain and discomfort. If you’re worried about sensitivity, you can mix a few drops of tea tree oil with a small amount of olive oil.
Some sleep positions will aggravate pain from ear infections, and some can help relieve it. Sleep with the affected ear raised instead of having it faced down towards the pillow. This can help the ear drain better if necessary.
You can also sleep with your head elevated by using extra pillows. This can also help the ears drain faster.
Some earaches are caused by pressure in the ear canal. Certain neck exercises can be used to relieve this pressure. Neck rotation exercises are particularly beneficial.
Follow these steps to perform neck rotations exercises:
- Sit straight up with both feet flat on the ground.
- Slowly rotate your neck and head to the right until your head is parallel with your shoulder.
- Rotate your head the other way, until your head is parallel with your left shoulder.
- Raise your shoulders high as if you’re trying to cover your ears with your shoulders.
- Make the movements slowly, hold them gently stretching more for a count of five, then relax.
- Repeat these often throughout waking hours.
Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe pain from earaches. Apply ginger juice, or strained oil that was warmed with ginger in it, around the outer ear canal. Do not put it directly into the ear.
Garlic has both antibiotic and pain-relieving properties. One study found that eardrops containing garlic, among other ingredients, were just as effective as over-the-counter eardrops. Soak crushed garlic for several minutes in warm olive or sesame oil. Strain the garlic out and apply the oil into the ear canal.
Hydrogen peroxide has been used as a natural remedy for earaches for many years. To use this method of treatment, place several drops of hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear. Let it sit for several minutes before letting it drain into a sink. Rinse your ear with clean, distilled water.
If it’s a child battling an earache, do your best to get them comfortable by taking their mind off the pain. Put on their favorite movie, bring home a new coloring book, have a bubble bath with lots of toys, let them play a game on your phone or tablet, pick up their favorite snack, or simply find other things for them to focus on. If your child is of teething age, offer cooled teething toys for chewing.
This method also works for adults. Treat yourself to a good book or a favorite movie to take your mind off the earache.
There are many possible causes for an earache. Cavities, sinus infections, earwax, tonsillitis, and teeth grinding are all relatively common causes. The most common ear infection is acute otitis media (AOM), or a middle ear infection. It’s characterized by swollen and infected portions of the middle ear. The pain associated with AOM is caused by fluid becoming trapped behind the eardrum. Symptoms may include:
- pain inside the ear
- slight hearing loss
- feeling sick in general
Babies and children may be restless, cranky, and pull at their ears.
When to use a home remedy
The best home remedy for an earache depends on the cause. If a cavity is to blame, your earache may not improve until you see a dentist. However, if it’s an ear infection, using a natural remedy could make the illness bearable as your body fights off the infection. Many ear infections clear up on their own in about a week or two, with symptoms starting to get better after a few days. Be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician if your child has ear pain, especially if your child is under 2 years of age.
If your child is running a high fever, or if a fever lasts longer than a day, seek immediate medical care. A high fever for children is defined as:
|Age||Method of measurement||Temperature|
|infants less than 3 months old||rectal||100.4ºF (38ºC) or greater|
|children 3 months to 3 years old||rectal||102ºF (38.9ºC) or greater|
|children of any age||oral, rectal, or forehead||104ºF (40ºC) or greater|
Your doctor can provide guidance on whether you should try home remedies first, or consider an antibiotic.
While there isn’t much evidence on alternative treatments for earaches, many home remedies can soothe the pain.