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Treating ear infections naturally

MagazineDecember 2013 (Vol. 24 Issue 9)Treating ear infections naturally

If your child is prone to this condition, these home remedies areAnnemarie's favourites

If your child is prone to this condition, these home remedies are Annemarie's favourites

Inflammation of the middle ear (on the other side of the eardrum), also known as 'otitis media', is a veritable epidemic among our children. Although the condition is commonly treated with antibiotics, despite the use of drugs it will recur time and time again. A recent review of 11 trials of antibiotics compared with a placebo or watchful waiting in children with acute otitis media found that, although the drugs were better at dealing with symptoms, the otherwise small difference overall did not outweigh the safety issues associated with antibiotic use.1

Given the substantial data available on the damaging adverse effects seen with antibiotics, it could be said that, in the case of ear infections, antibiotics may do little good and much harm. In fact, the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at the University of California at Davis recommends 'watchful waiting' instead of antibiotics as the first step in the treatment of non-acute middle-ear infection.

Ear problems may be dry, congestive and painful or they may be moist, when the eardrum may break open and allow the inflammation to drain naturally. Once the process is over, the eardrum will heal on its own.

When natural drainage doesn't happen, the medical treatment technique calls for placing tubes through the eardrum to allow pus to drain. This procedure (called 'myringotomy') is associated with permanent eardrum perforation in about 1 per cent of the ears treated, so further surgery is then required to repair the hole.

Also, as much as 70 per cent of the ears studied suffered recurring infections throughout the ear-tube treatment.

Possible causes

From my observations, infections may be to do with regular use of cow's milk products in the diet of both the mother while expecting and the child itself once born. If the mother eats a lot of milk products and cheese while pregnant, her child may discharge the mucus caused by excess dairy through the ears after birth. Let's remember that milk is a high-nutrient food intended by nature for the baby, not the mother, and that the nutrients in cow's milk are excessive for humans.

This relationship was made clear to me by painful personal experience. When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I craved lots of melted cheese and ate it daily on English muffins and pizza. After she was born, I stopped, so she and I both had what I consider a 'dairy discharge' when she was about five months old. She developed a dramatic ear infection with plenty of mucus. I wasn't seriously worried because I believed I understood the cause, which had been my diet.

I treated her with herb teas, washing out her ears with tea and honey (a natural antiseptic), and putting a small cold compress behind her ears (to keep the infection from spreading) and a warm compress over her kidneys at the back of her waist. The latter technique is based on the Chinese concept that the ears and kidneys are linked, so that any problem with the ears also indicates a problem with the kidneys. When the kidneys are attempting to clear away the byproducts of dairy metabolism, they may sometimes become overstressed, and the ears may reflect that stress in the form of inflammation. Placing a hot compress on the kidneys stimulates them to increase their detoxifying activities.

As I was breastfeeding my daughter at the time, I made sure to eat a low-fat diet and plenty of vegetable soups. Every time I put the compresses on her, she nursed well, slept for hours and didn't seem to be in pain, so I felt that healing was happening.

The process took three weeks, but she had no other ear infections after that for years, except for a mild earache about once a year that was easily handled by a hot compress on the ear. When she was eight she had another ear infection with drainage. At first I treated her with juices, the 'expansive' vitamin C approach (yin foods in Chinese medicine), but it didn't help, so I switched to the salty 'contractive' (yang) remedies and gave her miso soup (see page 67), as well as a hot compress on the kidneys: she rallied within a day.

Prevention

For children prone to ear infections, I find the best policy is to remove all milk products, sugar and, in some cases, wheat products from their diet. The problem will then usually abate within two or three months after the body goes through one last clean out, which is best treated naturally-without antibiotics.

Treatment

Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, a Boston-based specialist in European natural medicine, strongly suggests drinking plenty of warm water and rinsing out the nostrils with salt water to help with the drainage. Sezelle Gereau-Haddon, a paediatric otolaryngologist at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, recommends homeopathy for treating ear infections. Here are some other home remedies you can apply, which have worked well for me.

For dry painful earaches, try:

Cold socks.Take a pair of cotton socks, wet with cold tap water, wring out and put on the feet, then add a pair of dry socks on top of the wet ones. Do this before bedtime and sleep with the socks on.

A hot compress.To reduce ear pain, fold a washcloth in four, wet under

hot tap water, wring out and place

on the ear as hot as you (or the

patient) can stand; put on a

woolen cap to keep it in place.

Use this only for dry

earaches; for wet, draining

earaches, use the hot

compress on the kidneys.

Keeping the ears warm and covered.

Warm olive oil drops.Warm a bit of olive oil until a test drop on the wrist feels pleasant, and place two or three drops in each ear, followed by a cottonball to keep the oil from running out too soon.

Food and drink.As with all inflammatory conditions, it's best to keep away from sweets, milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, and instead have plenty of warm liquids like teas and soups, soft grain dishes like oatmeal, polenta or soft barley, and cooked vegetables like carrots, squash or zucchini (courgettes). Go easy on protein foods until the condition subsides.

If the home remedies don't help, if the earache lasts more than three days or if there is fever with listlessness, neck pain or any other worrisome symptoms, visit a health professional.

Below is my favourite remedy for any infection.

Garlic Miso Soup

1 whole head garlic, all cloves peeled
950 mL chicken or vegetable stock
2 Tbsp light miso paste

Simmer the garlic cloves in 2 cups of stock for 10 minutes, then pur'ee in a blender with the miso. Pour this back into the pan, add the rest of the stock and heat. Serve hot or, if to children, warm.


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