An ear infection can be a very painful explanation for a sleepless night. Three out of four children will have suffered at least one by their third birthday. It is also the most prevalent complaint that lands children at the doctor’s surgery, and the most common reason for prescribed antibiotics. Yet the NHS website states that the routine use of antibiotics to treat middle ear infections is not recommended, as there is no evidence that they speed up the healing process. In fact, many ear infections are caused by viruses, which antibiotics are completely ineffective against.
I remember waiting several hours to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic on a Sunday morning when Melissa was really small to find out, to my relief, that her ear pulling and grumpy disposition was just a bad case of teething.
When your baby screams in excruciating pain unable to tell you what the matter is, it’s easy to feel helpless. Yet ear infections are almost completely preventable and easily remedied at home.
Firstly, how can you tell if your baby has an ear infection?
1) Ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Watch out for a runny nose that turns yellow or green as a bacterial infection sets in.
2) Increased night-waking and fussiness during the day and night could be a sign of pain, however it’s often difficult to tell the difference between teething and an ear infection.
3) Low grade fever (101-102F) most certainly indicates an illness of some kind but is not always present with an ear infection.
4) Ear drainage – blood or pus draining out of the ear is a sure sign of an ear infection but will only show if the eardrum is ruptured.
5) Worsening of pain when lying flat could be a sign; however the pain could be elsewhere, for example colic pain is often worse when lying down.
6) Pulling on the ear – small children cannot localise where pain is coming from and may do this when teething or simply playing with their ear.
7) Diminished hearing – may indicate a blocked ear in a baby, but could just be a sign that your toddler is developing selective hearing.
As you can see it’s all very confusing. You can never be completely sure that your child has an ear infection unless you or a doctor to take a look right inside. However, you can take preventative measures to make sure that your child does not get one to begin with, by following these simple steps.
1) Put on a woolly hat! Cold wind can quickly get to the ears and turn a cold into an earache. Keep heads and ears well covered on a cold winter’s day.
2) Don’t go swimming if your child has a cold, and use a nasal aspirator to clear mucus from the sinuses and prevent infections spreading to the ear.
3) Make sure the ears are completely dry after getting wet in the bath, shower or swimming pool by gently tipping your child’s head each way over a towel for a minute to allow water to drain.
4) Exposure to cigarette smoke can irritate the tiny estuation tubes in a child and lead to an infection. It goes without saying – don’t smoke around children.
What can you do if you suspect an ear infection?
1) Apply a warm wash cloth, water bottle or heating pad on the ear – this helps with pain.
2) Combine a few drops of garlic oil with a tsp of olive oil and warm it to body temperature. Using a dropper, drop a few drops into the infected ear and allow the child to rest their head to the side in order for the oil to penetrate. Repeat on the other side if necessary. WARNING – if you see any liquid or pus draining out of the ear, DO NOT PUT ANY DROPS INTO THE EAR.
3) Perform a gentle ear drainage massage to clear the ear and get rid of excess fluid. See the video below.
4) Echinacea is a herb which medical research has shown to be safe and effective at boosting the immune system decreasing the frequency, duration and severity of common illnesses including ear infections. Here’s my favourite brand for babies over 6 months.
Do remember, that although extremely painful, an ear infection will usually clear up itself after 3 days with no treatment whatsoever.
As a child I suffered from numerous ear infections. Goodness, they were the most painful thing (other than labour) that I’ve ever experienced. I had many courses of antibiotics, my ears drained and waxy build up syringed, but they just kept coming back. Then when I was 18 I discovered I had a cow’s milk allergy. I haven’t had cow’s milk regularly now for nearly 20 years, and I have also never suffered with another ear infection.
If your child is having repeated ear infections I suggest you consider the following;
Natural solutions for chronic ear infections
1. Craniosacral therapy – During labour the skull of your baby is squashed to fit through the birthing canal and especially in the case of an assisted birth (vontouse or forceps) may take time to recover shape. Gentle adjustment to the skull and neck can improve middle ear drainage and decrease ear infections.
2) Swimmers ear – if your child seems to get an ear infection every time they go swimming, you may prevent this by placing several drops of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar into the ear canal with a dropper. These kill infection and dry up the moisture.
3) Get an otoscope so you can see the infection yourself without having to wait for a doctor’s appointment. This way you can treat at the first sign.
4) Allergies – if like me, your child has continuous ear infections I would consider an allergy to cow’s milk. Research has shown a link between cow’s milk allergies and recurrent ear infections. Other signs that your child may have a cow’s milk allergy are colic, hay fever, eczema, acid reflux and digestive problems.
Does your child suffer with ear infections? Have you found any natural solutions or cures for your child’s ear infections? I’d love to hear about them. Please leave comments below.