Ear infections are the most common cause for a visit to the family doctor or pediatrician in the US. Two out of every three children face an ear infection by age two.

Typically, ear infections are treated by oral antibiotics, and unfortunately the antibiotics often lead to a higher risk of repeat infection within the first six weeks.

What Causes Ear Infections?

Ear infections are generally caused by a virus or bacteria, but tend to most often be due to phlegm that won’t clear from a virus. Chronic ear infections can occur because of an overproduction of mucus, or because the body is unable to completely resolve a virus or a cold.

The eustachian tubes in children’s ears are shorter and more horizontal, thus they become blocked more easily than an adult and can lead to an infection.

Recurrent ear infections can lead to surgery or even hearing loss. Let’s go over some effective ways to prevent and treat ear infections.

Treating and Preventing Ear Infections

Diet

Diet is key in resolving ear infections, especially chronic recurring ones.

Mucus producing foods, especially dairy can be a major culprit. We have found that even temporarily taking a child off of all dairy helped alleviate symptoms.

If cow’s milk is a family staple, try replacing with other milks – such as goat’s milk or hemp milk – which can be gentler. Try taking your child off all dairy for a couple of weeks and then add it back in slowly, starting with yogurt as they’ll need the probiotics.

The key is to minimize foods that cause mucus production. Peanut products, oranges, bananas, foods with excessive sugar and fried foods should be avoided.

Diet habits are equally important. I recommend the following in my clinic:

  • Curb irregular eating like eating too much at one time, or too close to bedtime.
  • Make sure your child drinks in an upright position, as bottle feeding and drinking in a lying-down position can cause ear infections. This is due to the horizontal positioning of young children’s eustachian tubes.

I also recommend introducing more foods that help reduce mucus. These include: garlic, onions, umeboshi plums, daikon radish, parsley, lemon, watercress and mustard.

Give your child probiotics to build up good gut flora, especially after any course of antibiotics.

Ear drops

Make or buy a mixture of olive oil with garlic and mullein and put 1 drop in the affected ear before bed or with pain as needed up to 1x/4 hrs. Warm the oil slightly before dropping it in, and massage the ear canal after administering. I also use a homeopathic remedy called Vivi drops, an antiviral solution to be used long after the last ear infection as a preventative.

Warm compress

You can take a sock, add rice, tie a knot and microwave for 25 seconds to make a very quick and simple warm compress. Hold it to the affected ear to soothe pain and increase circulation and drainage.

Massage

Massage in front of the ear canal and then stroking downwards from behind ear lobe along neck towards collarbone to help with drainage of excess fluids.

Treating and Preventing Ear Infections with Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbs

Chinese herbal medicine offers gentle pediatric formulas for children that are safe and effective. I’ve found Children’s Ear Formula Syrup to be the most effective for ear infections. It is in liquid form and can be syringed into your child’s mouth. Finding the most appropriate herbal tincture with the correct dosing is covered during an office visit.

Acupuncture or Shonishin

Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation and mucus, relieve pain and circulate the lymph to increase drainage. Acupuncture can also boost the immune system to recover from and prevent further ear infections. Pediatric acupuncture doesn’t always require needles, but may include non-insertive acupuncture techniques called shonishin, as well as special pediatric massage to stimulate acupressure points.

Moxa

We also use moxa to stimulate drainage and soothe pain. Moxa is an herb called mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) that is burned like an incense stick near the ear (not directly on the child), to promote circulation in the area.

There you have it: ear infections can be treated and prevented with some at-home remedies, plus a visit to your acupuncturist.