(NOTE: This article is from the old Herbal Legacy Newsletter)

December 2005

by Lindsay Wolsey, MH

Since I have a new baby, I’m a little concerned about treating earaches.  Only a little, because I already know what to do for an earache.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I’ve been working at The School of Natural Healing for quite a while, and I’ve been telling people what Herbalists would do for things like this for quite some time.
A couple of years ago a neighbor of mine expressed frustration that babies didn’t come issued with an Medi-Scope (you know, that device the doctor uses to look into kids ears to see if there is an infection).  She was so tired of having to haul her kids to the doctor’s office to find out if they had ear infections.  I replied, “why should babies come with a Medi-Scope, when you can buy one at the local drug store for $13?”  And besides that, why not just give them what the body needs for healing an ear infection, regardless of whether or not you’re sure that’s what the problem is?  Is garlic oil going to hurt anyone?  No.  Is it going to cause an anti-biotic resistant strain of ear infection?  No.
What is an Ear Infection?
There are actually different variations of ear infections, depending on the location of the pain.  The most common, and the one that usually affects children, is a middle ear infection, known as otitis media.  The Eustachian tubes in children are shorter, more horizontal, and can easily be blocked.  Ear infections often accompany colds or other respiratory infections.
Who Gets Them?
Everyone can get an ear infection, but they seem to mainly affect children.  Particularly those who consume a high amount of dairy.
When I was about 6 months pregnant (and on vacation no less), I got a doozy of an ear infection.  Being an herbalist, I knew what to do for it.  Being a pregnant woman, I had forgotten to pack garlic oil.
My brother Ryan got a really bad ear infection when he was about 15, and instead of calling me, my mom took him to the doctor.  And they gave him anti-biotics, and they did nothing.  So then I got the phone call, dropped off some garlic oil and mullein and lobelia, explained how to use it—within two days, the ear infection was gone.  Calling me would have saved the $20 co-pay, the $10 prescription, and the friendly flora.
When I was a kid, when you got an ear infection you also got a prescription for anti-biotics.  Fortunately, that has changed.  Today, you are only going to come out with a prescription for anti-biotics if your doctor is a dinosaur, or if you are at risk for a secondary infection.  Otherwise, you will most likely be told to deal with this on your own.  The good news is, 80% of ear infections clear up on their own with no intervention.  Allopathically, you’re going to be told to use painkillers, heat, and rest.  Occasionally, the doctor will insert tubes in the ears to release the pressure and drain the infection.  Which is really silly, when you think about it.  Why put a hole in the ear to prevent a hole in the ear?  But how else would an Allopath open the Eustachian tubes?
An Herbalist will tell you to use garlic oil, and mullein and lobelia oil in the ear.  When I got my ear infection when I was out of town, my first stop was to an herb shop, where I picked up some garlic oil and some garlic capsules, to help boost the immune system internally.  We happened to be driving home at the time, and believe me, the pressure changes were not fun to deal with.  When I got home, I did a little research, and discovered that if you add some essential oils to the garlic oil, it can take out that ear infection a lot faster.  I like a combination of tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and thyme oil in a garlic oil base.  Yes, you will smell like Italian food, but you’ll cut a few days off your recovery.  Sometimes the garlic oil can clear up an earache in just one day!  Just put a few drops of this combination in your ear, put a cotton ball in it to keep it from leaking all over your clothes, and you’ll be comfortable again in no time.
You could also apply a hot compress to the ear.  And definitely cut back/eliminate the dairy.
Nathan, our old student advisor, used onion juice to treat an ear infection in one of his kids.  He said that green stuff came out of his sons ears, but that the onion juice took care of it just fine.  David Christopher says that using an onion poultice over the years has worked great when dealing with ear infections.
My neighbor Gigi, who would see less ear infections if she gave her kids more orange juice and less chocolate milk, actually took my advice on earaches, and was extremely amazed at how well the garlic oil works.
Depending on how you treat the ear infection, it should be gone within 1-3 days.  It is important to note that fluid behind the ear drum is normal after an ear infection, and will clear up in about 3 months.  I’ve noticed that myself—I keep wondering when it’s going to start draining.
No dairy.  Dairy causes mucus, which leaves the body open to infections.
Breastfeed.  Breastfed babies experience fewer ear infections than babies fed with bottles.
Stop smoking.  Ear infections are more common in children who are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home.
Wash hands regularly.  This is just an all around, good way to prevent the spread of infection.
Boost immune system.  Instead of relying on anti-biotics, have your body do the work for you.
One I hadn’t heard of was having your children chew gum sweetened with Xylitol, instead of sugar.  Children who chew this type of gum experience half as many ear infections as those who chew regular gum.