So, otitis media–the common ear infection. It is very common in children and not unusual in adults. It is the number one reason for antibiotics prescriptions in the US and costs 3-4 billion-yes, billion-dollars each year to treat in the us alone. WHY?
Ear infection with no complication can be easily treated at home by a caregiver. And the world of standard medicine is beginning to see this. Many studies have been done in the past 10 years or so. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, a VERY conservative group, is suggesting the “watchful waiting” approach-where the parent keeps an eye on the child or on oneself in case of worsening while treating the illness at home. Wow!
WEb MD, a bastion of meds and alarm, recommends using garlic/mullein ear oil at home. The New York Times says “Most cases of acute otitis media do not require antibiotocs”. Harvard Medical School says “80% of children with acute ear infection will get better without antibiotics.” Well, then! maybe it’s time to stop the madness, eh?
I have personal experience with ear infections. All of my kids have had at least one. I myself am prone to ear troubles, and get an ear infection each winter. I also have dealt with ruptured eardrums, which also usually resolve on their own.
I do not recommend an emergency room visit for ear infections. My personal opinion is, I don’t think a doctor’s visit is needed at all for an ear infection unless there is a secondary complication, an underlying condition or it goes on for more than 3-5 days.
So how does an herbalist Mama treat herself and her family? Lymphatics. Heat, rest, time. Good food. This is a situation where I will use an otc pain med. A few of the treatments I use:
1. Ear oils. If there is no rupture in the eardrum, a slightly warmed ear oil can be droppered into the ear. The gold standard is Mullein flower and garlic. Some folks like alder, willow, aspen or another anti-inflammatory. This should be done every few hours, cotton balls can be used in the outer ear to keep it al in there. You can make this oil yourself!
2. Heat. When my daughter told me she received ice for her ear pain at school I shuddered with horror. Heat is soothing, moving and brings pain relief. I use a hot water bottle but any kind of heating device can be used. Additonally, keep ears and head warm and dry. WEAR A HAT! even in the house if needed. Keep your neck warm too.
3.Pain management-contrary to popular opinion I am not against all otc medcines all the time. There is a time and a place for using acetaminophen or nsaids to reduce pain and inflammation. I use them sparingly but ear infections can be shockingly painful. However, be sure not to mask pain altogether, we must know if the condition is getting better or worse, or if it is resolving itself.
4. Herbs-I use frequent high doses of lymphatics in tincture form such as Cleavers, Calendula flower, Violet leaf, Mullein leaf, Alder bark. My intention is to support the body’s natural healing process. In the case of a ruptured eardrum I used a more intense approach, with frequent high doses of Alder, fresh Echinacea root and 1 part Calendula flower alternated with a tincture of Elecampane root and goldenrod. This is a short term protocol as it is quite drying. I love to use Monarda fistulosa here, and Propolis, Linden, California Poppy. I also like lymphatic massage, high doses of vitamins C and D, medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi and Maitake, simmered broths and soups with ginger and garlic and a drink of warm water or Elder flower tea with raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar. I can’t say enough about supporting our own healing process with nutrition–cut out crap food, sugar, milk if needed and nourish yourself through the illness.
5. Movement-gentle exercise supports drainage and healing. While I do NOT recommend doing vigorous exercise with a severe ear infection due to balance issues I have found movement to be a great way to support healing. Do what works for you, but don’t automatically lay on the couch for days moaning “IIIIIIII’m DEEEEEAD!” if you can help it.
And, of course if the infection does not resolve with natural treatment there is no shame in getting some help. Antibiotics can help in severe or prolonged cases, and we must remember not to judge. It’s hardly a radical view to recommend this wait-and-see approach when the staid aap suggests it and many studies support it. I strongly recommend taking basic responsibility for our own healing in non-emergency cases. I believe that to transform our ideas of healing we need to watch it happen! And to observe the body’s own healing power which is a truly wondrous thing. To have faith in our own abilities and to cultivate patience and observation skills. And, ultimately, to view the doctors and hospitals as AN option, not THE only option in dealing with our well-being.