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Home remedies for ear infections and earache

Last update on Apr, 26, 2023

If you've ever experienced an ear infection or an earache, you know how annoying and uncomfortable it can be. While most ear infections aren’t serious issues and can resolve quickly, there are several useful home remedies you can use to ease your discomfort and speed up recovery. Explore tips to address your ear infections and earaches at home and learn how you can help prevent them in the future. 

Do home remedies ease ear infections and earaches?

In most cases, ear infections occur in the middle ear or the space behind the eardrum. Ear infections don’t occur on their own. In most cases, the middle ear becomes inflamed when another illness, such as a cold, the flu or allergies, causes congestion and swelling of the nose, throat and eustachian tubes.

These tubes, which run from the middle ear to the back of the throat, regulate air pressure and drain fluid from the middle ear. When they become swollen, fluid builds up in the middle ear and can become infected. While ear infections can happen at any age, children are more likely to experience ear problems; their eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal, making it more difficult to drain fluid from the ears.

While some ear infection cases warrant a visit to your doctor, these conditions often don’t need extensive medical care and can be solved with some simple home remedies for ear infections and natural remedies for earaches. Implementing these home remedies for earache or infection can provide some much-needed relief for patients of any age.

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Home remedies for ear infections and earaches

Whether your ear infection requires a doctor’s visit and you need some relief until you can see a doctor, or you’re just looking for quick relief, these home remedies for ear infections in adults and kids can provide a necessary stopgap measure for dealing with ear infection symptoms. Here are some home remedies for earache that could help ease your condition: 

One simple home remedy for ear infections is using a warm compress. How to use a compress on your ears:

  • Soak a soft washcloth in warm water;
  • Wring out any excess water;
  • Hold it against the infected ear for up to 20 minutes.

This process can be repeated as often as necessary. This method is also a safe and useful home remedy for ear infections in kids. 

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are one of the quickest home remedies for ear infections in adults and kids. They can be a helpful tool in easing the pain, fever or inflammation that causes ear infections. Prior to taking any OTC medications, consult with a doctor or pharmacist if you are currently taking any additional medications. Most pain relief medications are safe to use if also taking antibiotics, but review the dosage labels prior to taking the medication.

For children:

  • Choose children or infant versions of OTC pain relievers when available
  • Give only acetaminophen to children younger than 6 months
  • Use ibuprofen for fever and pain only for children older than 6 months
  • Seek medical attention immediately for infants younger than 3 months who have a fever

Be sure not to give children aspirin as a pain reliever, as it may put them at risk for Reye’s syndrome. Before your child takes any new medication, speak with your doctor to determine proper usage.

For adults:

  • Consider acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the best results
  • Review dosage instructions to administer the proper amount
  • Speak with your doctor prior to taking your medication to determine if it might affect your hearing health

To address the illnesses causing the ear infection itself, simply resting or sleeping can be a great way to strengthen the immune system to fight the virus or bacteria. However, be sure that you’re sleeping properly to protect your infected ear. 

How to protect your ear:

  • Elevate the affected ear to allow the infection to drain out by sleeping on your other side or using additional pillows under your head;
  • Keep blankets and hair away from your ears to keep your ear dry and open to fresh airflow.

Among home remedies for ear infections, this one is most commonly used for people experiencing ear infections as a result of swimmer’s ear. OTC drying eardrops can be useful in addressing excessive fluid in the ear, which often comes with swimming that involves the head going underwater. These ear drops should not be used for adults or children with ear tubes if there is visible discharge or if your eardrum is ruptured. Consult with a physician before using it to make sure it’s safe.

Hydrogen peroxide can be a useful home remedy for ear infections in adults if used carefully and correctly.

How to use hydrogen peroxide:

  • Use a dropper to place a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in the affected ear
  • Allow the solution to sit for a few minutes
  • Tilt your head over a sink to let the fluid drain out
  • Rinse off your ear

While it can be a useful solution to clean your ears, hydrogen peroxide must be handled carefully to ensure that it helps rather than hurts. This procedure shouldn’t be repeated too frequently and only in small doses; too much hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation, pain and inflammation to the sensitive skin and parts of the ear.

Hydrogen peroxide should not be used if there’s a hole in the eardrum, as it can be painful and cause damage to the inner ear. Be sure to fully drain the ear after using hydrogen peroxide to prevent buildup in the ear. 

Known for effectively treating inflammation in the body, saltwater could also be a useful home remedy for ear infections by addressing inflammation.

How to do a saltwater gargle

  • Add one of teaspoon salt to one cup of water
  • Gargle the mixture for a couple of minutes
  • Spit and rinse your mouth to remove any remaining saltwater

Be sure to never put salt water in or near the ear. 

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What not to use for ear infections and earaches

While numerous home remedies can provide meaningful symptom relief, there are several that should be avoided entirely. Using these methods can mean greater pain in the short term and even cause significant damage to the inner ear.

  • Swabs: Cotton swabs shouldn’t be placed in the ear canal under normal circumstances and  shouldn’t be used if you have an ear infection. Instead of cleaning out the inside of the ear, using a swab can push infected material further into your ear, causing pain and making the infection worse. They can be used to wipe away any discharge visible in the outer ear but should never be used inside.
  • Oil: While putting warm olive oil into the ear to address earache is sometimes cited as a home remedy, this method has no scientific backing and can lead to greater problems in the ear. Warming the olive oil can cause burns in the ear or eardrum if the oil is too hot and cause significant inner ear damage if used with a hole in the eardrum.
  • Numbing Drops: While it might seem tempting to numb the pain in your ears, these drops have a very temporary effect and don’t properly address the problem. Numbing drops attempt to numb the pain and decrease pain and inflammation, but in many cases, they can cause a stinging or burning sensation in the ear upon application. Improper usage can also lead to hearing loss or tinnitus.

Before using any home remedies, consult with a hearing care professional to learn if the method would be effective in treating your symptoms. 

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Ear infections: When to see a doctor

Home remedies can be useful tools in addressing most ear infections in the short term, but if your condition persists, it might be time to see your doctor.

When to go to a doctor for ear infections:

  • Ear pain lasting more than two days;
  • Excessive fluid drainage from the ear;
  • Changes in hearing;
  • Lack of results after using home remedies or OTC medications;
  • Fever over 102 degrees;
  • Regular ear infections;

Your doctor will be able to review your medication and medical history to locate the cause of your ear infection, as well as offer suggestions on what the best approach might be to properly handle your symptoms. 

If your doctor determines that you are experiencing an ear infection due to bacteria, they will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat your condition. This medication is an effective way to clear up bacterial infections and can help prevent the existing infection from spreading throughout the body.

Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, not viral infections. In fact, if you have a viral ear infection, taking antibiotics can make your infection worse and potentially make the medicine less effective at fighting bacteria in the body. Speak with a doctor before taking any antibiotics to review your condition and ensure that the medication you’re taking will help your body heal. 

To determine whether antibiotics are an appropriate course of treatment, your doctor will consider the following factors: 

  • Existing medical conditions: If you or your child have certain medical conditions, such as cleft palate, frequent ear infections or use of a cochlear implant, antibiotics for ear infections might be recommended immediately.
  • Current symptoms: Symptoms like high fever or severe dehydration might mean starting antibiotics quickly. This could also be the case if your doctor can’t see the ear infection and your symptoms haven’t resolved on their own.
  • Length of infection: If your viral infection hasn’t gone away after 1-2 weeks, your doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics.
  • Age of the patient: Antibiotics for earaches might be the best solution for children under 2 years old, especially if they are experiencing painful or intense symptoms like fever, dual ear infection or severe pain.

Through your course of antibiotics, your doctor will monitor your symptoms and determine the next steps as necessary to treat the condition. 

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How to prevent ear infections

While ear infections can’t be prevented, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe from the illness-causing viruses or bacteria that lead to the infections. Here’s how to prevent ear infections in babies and adults:

  • Wash hands to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke, which can irritate the eustachian tubes and make both adults and children more susceptible to ear infections.
  • Limit interactions with children who are (or whose family members are) ill to reduce the number of germs your child is exposed to.
  • Breastfeeding, when possible, gives babies antibodies to boost their immune system and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Hold babies with their heads elevated to avoid fluid collecting in their ears.
  • Get vaccinated according to a doctor’s recommendations to avoid viral and bacterial infections that can turn into ear infections. 

Ear infections happen, but there are ways to alleviate the pain that they cause and lessen their duration. If you have questions about ear infections and how they can affect your overall hearing health, book an appointment at your local Miracle-Ear to learn more.

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