I am deeply saddened whenever I hear parents talk about children who suffer from chronic ear infections and wind up having tubes in their ears. The longest it ever took me to relieve an earache in one of my children was five hours, and most of the time I could relieve them much more rapidly than that.
To understand how to relieve an earache it helps if you understand what is happening in the tissues when they become inflamed. Inflammation occurs whenever there is some kind of irritation or damage to tissues, which may or may not involve infection. When inflammation sets in, it causes swelling, redness, heat and pain.
Typically, what happens with an earache is that something causes the eustachian tube to become inflamed. The eustachian tube runs from the inner ear into the back of the throat. This allows the airpressure to equalize on both sides of the eardrum. You’ve probably experienced your ears “popping” when there was a sudden change in air pressure. That “pop” was air traveling through the eustachian tubes to normalize the air pressure. These tubes also allow fluid to drain from the inner ear into the throat.
When the eustachian tube becomes inflamed it swells, just like any other tissue in the body. This swelling causes the eustachian tube to close, which prevents normalization of pressure on both sides of the eardrum. The inner ear, ear canal and eardrum may also become inflamed and swollen, creating more pressure, which intensifies the pain. Just as with any other type of inflammation, the key to rapidly resolving an earache is to get the lymphatic system to drain the excess fluid away from the tissues so the swelling will diminish and the cells will stop sending pain signals to the brain.
This can be achieved by using two simple therapies. First, we can use some type of natural remedy that reduces inflammation and swelling, while promoting lymphatic flow, either as eardrops or as a compress over the ear. Second, we can do lymphatic drainage massage to reduce the swelling. Once we have reduced the swelling and “cooled down” the inflammation, the pain will subside and the irritated tissues will start to heal.
Step One: Use a Remedy to Reduce Inflammation and Swelling
Here are a couple of the herbal remedies I have found most effective for earaches. You probably have at least one of these remedies in your home right now.
Garlic is very effective for relieving earaches and can be employed in a number of ways. Garlic oil (which is simply garlic infused into olive oil) can be warmed and used in the ear as ear drops. Even better is a combination of garlic with mullein flowers and/or St. John’s wort flowers. The garlic oil can also be rubbed around the ear itself and used along the side of the neck for the lymphatic drainage massage.
Garlic contains powerful aromatic compounds that have an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action. My own experience, and that of many of my friends and colleagues, suggests that garlic is actually quicker and more powerful at fighting ear infections than pharmaceutical antibiotics. The antiseptic compounds will be absorbed through the skin and the eardrum into the inner ear and surrounding tissues, fighting infection and reducing inflammation at the same time.
Another way to use garlic is to take a clove of fresh garlic and cut a piece to the size that will fit comfortably in the outer ear. Do not put the garlic clove into the ear canal; you only want it to rest on the outer ear (kind of like an old-fashioned hearing aid). The raw garlic may cause a burning sensation, which can be lessened by coating the side that will come in contact with the ear with olive oil. This may not be the most socially acceptable way to fight an ear infection, however this technique is very effective.
One of the remedies I’ve found that usually relieves earache pain very rapidly is onions. As with the garlic, there are a number of ways the onion can be used. Start by steaming or baking an onion with the skin on until it is soft. Keeping the skin on helps to hold the onion juices inside. Crush some of the cooked onion in a bowl to press out some of the juice of the onion. (If necessary, add a small amount of water to extract some of the juice.) Using an eyedropper, place some of the warm juice in the ear. Usually, this relieves the pain in a matter of minutes.
An alternative method is to cut the cooked onion in half and place the cut surface against the outside of the ear and hold it there for 5-20 minutes. This has also proven highly effective in easing the pain. Make certain the onion has cooled enough that it is warm, but not hot enough to burn the skin.
I have friends who have used raw onion juice, but I find this burns even more than the raw garlic. My suggestion, if you want to use raw onion, would be to dilute the juice with a little olive oil or glycerin before putting any in the ear.
A midwife friend taught me this one. If you don’t have onions or garlic handy, then you probably have some cinnamon in your spice cabinet. Sprinkle a little cinnamon into some olive oil (or another vegetable oil if you don’t have any olive oil, but olive oil is best). Heat the oil over the stove at a low temperature. My midwife friend simply puts the olive oil and cinnamon in a tablespoon, holds it with a hot pad and heats the spoon over the stove. When the oil is hot, remove it from the stove and let it cool to body temperature. Strain it through a fine cloth and use the oil as ear drops.
Colloidal Silver and Essential Oils:
A final earache remedy I’ve found very helpful is colloidal silver. If you can obtain it, a 500 parts per million colloidal silver is best. If not, look for a brand that is at least 100 parts per million. Colloidal silver can be warmed and dropped directly in the ear, but it is even more effective mixed with some essential oils. Lavender, cajeput, tea tree and thyme are all very effective for earaches. Use 1 drop of essential oils per 10-20 drops of colloidal silver. Essential oils can also be diluted in olive oil (when colloidal silver isn’t available) for a similar effect. Like the garlic and onions, these mixtures will fight infection and reduce inflammation.
While this isn’t a remedy you’re likely to have lying around the house, it is a remedy I recommend for your herbal home medicine chest.
Lavender, tea tree oil or sweet oil:
Take a bottle of sweet oil, heat it up in microwave for about 20 seconds or until its very warm. Get a cotton ball and put the very warm sweet oil on it and put it in your ear, replace about every hour or so.
Lavender or tea tree oil – Put two or three drops onto a cotton ball and place in outer ear, leaving it as long as is comfortable. Do not push the cotton ball into the ear canal. Apply lavender oil externally behind and below the ear.
Caution: Dropping something cold in the ear increases the sensation of pain, and you don’t want to burn the ear by putting something too hot in it, either. So, it is very important to warm any mixture you are going to use to body temperature before putting it in the ear. You can do this by placing the bottle containing the remedy under your arm, in your pocket or otherwise close to your body until it reaches body temperature. An alternative way to warm the remedy is to put the bottle of the remedy into a container filled with hot water. Check the temperature of the remedy by placing a drop on your wrist before putting any in the ear. The mixture should feel neutral in temperature or slighty warm on your wrist. I only made the mistake of dropping a cold tincture into my ear once. It hurt enough that I knew to never do that again.
Step Two: Use Lymphatic Drainage Massage to Reduce Swelling and Ease Pain
The most effective way I’ve found for relieving earaches quickly is to use the following sequence. First, have the person lay on his or her side with the aching ear facing upward. Next put the ear drops (garlic oil, onion juice, colloidal silver, etc.) in the ear. Grasp the lower part of the ear and begin stretching and massaging it. This helps the remedy reach the eardrum and begins the process of lymphatic drainage.
Finally, after a few minutes of massaging the ear, begin using a “milking” technique to increase lymphatic drainage in the neck and throat. Place your finger in the indentation just under the ear and behind the jawbone. Gently stroke the neck downward from this point. Gently massage the lymph nodes in the throat area, too. You’ll know what they are because you’ll feel hardened, lumpy areas in the neck and throat. These movements will dramatically increase the flow of lymph moving away from the ear.
If the first round of this procedure doesn’t completely relieve the pain, be patient. Just keep repeating the same process once every hour or so.
These techniques do work. As I said earlier, the longest it ever took me to relieve an earache in one of my children was five hours, and I’ve seen an earache permanently gone in as little as one hour (and half of that was spent cooking an onion to make eardrops. Just be patient and persistent.
If the technique doesn’t work in a reasonable amount of time, you can go to the doctor, but this is rarely necessary. Once the fluids that are trapped in the tissues of the eustachian tubes and inner ear are drawn into the lymphatic system and the swelling has subsided, the earache will be gone. This involves the same process that helps a relieve the pain of a smashed finger or other injury.
A couple of other options:
Irrigate the ear with astringent herbs – Simmer 1/4 cup of dried comfrey leaves and 1/4 cup dried witch hazel leaves in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Let it cool, strain the mixture, and irrigate the ear with an ear bulb (ear syringe) by leaning over the sink with the sore ear down and gently flooding the ear with the solution. Do not squeeze the bulb forcefully. Repeat four times a day.
Irrigate the ear with healing herbs – Simmer 1/4 cup dried mullein leaves, 1/4 cup echinacea root, and 1/4 cup dried comfrey leaves in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Cool, strain, and irrigate the ear as above four times a day. Alternate herb mixtures as desired.
Irrigate the sinuses with a neti pot – A warm salt water solution will help with sinus and ear pressure.