Your child wakes up in the middle of the night crying. You know she has a cold but suddenly she has a fever and doesn’t want to lie flat. Could it be an ear infection? They aren’t always this easy to identify. Sometimes they lurk for days with the only symptom being an increase in fussiness, which (as any parent can attest) can be caused by everything or nothing.
Ear infections are serious because when they’re left untreated, they can lead to impaired hearing. “Children are more susceptible to ear infections because of their anatomy and developing immune systems,” says naturopathic physician Erin Psota. Their short eustachian tubes do not drain well, and with chronic congestion from allergies or a common cold, fluid can build up and harbor bacterial growth.
An ear infection often starts with a cold or other virus. Common causes are Haemophilus influenza, Moraxella catarrhalis, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). If your child has recurring ear infections, you’ll want to explore the possibility of allergies from foods such as dairy, wheat and citrus. A restrictive diet is the best way to rule out food allergies and help alleviate symptoms. And if a cold is present, it is always best to avoid congesting foods, including eggs, dairy, wheat and sugar.
“Infants and children respond very well to homeopathic remedies,” Psota says. Although some remedies are symptom-specific and a consultation with a homeopathic doctor or naturopath is best before use, some of the more common ones have broad applications.
The three homeopathic remedies Psota recommends most often are Chamomilla, Pulsatilla and Hepar sulphuris calcareum. Psota recommends Chamomilla for children who are irritable and demand to be carried. Pulsatilla is best for a weepy, whiny child with ear pain that comes on gradually and is accompanied by thick, yellow-green mucus. Hepar sulphuris calcareum is for noted pain, when a child is waking at night and screaming, and/or is also very sensitive to cold air.
Balance the gut to support immunity
Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist and author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal (Storey Books, 2001), recommends adding acidophilus to your child’s diet to help support immunity. If antibiotics are necessary, a probiotic blend can help provide support. In addition, rest and nourishment are vital for shortening the duration of an ear infection. “It is imperative that a child with an ear infection get plenty of rest and not go out into the cold air prematurely,” Gladstar advises.
Other natural forms of relief
If your child is older and is willing to drink tea, try adding a warming ginger tea to the daily diet. Grate some fresh ginger into a cup of hot water and add freshly squeezed lemon juice and a spoonful of honey. The combination will help clear congestion, soothe irritated nasal passages and uplift the spirit, notes Gladstar.
Lymphatic massage can help promote draining of the ear as well, Psota says. Applying castor or olive oil, or creams such as Lymphdiaral, directly behind the ear and massaging using light pressure can help open the lymphatic channels. Be sure to massage in a downward direction, behind the ear, along the jaw line and into the neck.
Helping with pain
Both Psota and Gladstar highly recommend using an ear oil to help soothe pain. Psota suggests using a pre-made blend that includes garlic, mullein, calendula and St. John’s Wort blended in an olive oil base. Gladstar has a DIY recipe that includes Echinacea root, garlic, usnea, ginger and goldenseal (see below). Make sure you’ve seen a doctor to discuss before using.
Unfortunately, ear infections are quite common in children. Lifestyle changes, specifically monitoring your child’s diet and focusing on preventative and immunity-supporting herbs and foods, can help.
Recipe: Children's Ear Tincture
Excerpted from Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal
1 part Echinacea root
1 part fresh garlic
1 part usnea
¼ part ginger root
¼ part organically grown goldenseal root
- Chop herbs finely. Place herbs in a clean, dry jar.
- Pour apple cider vinegar over herbs until liquid rises 2 or 3 inches above herbs. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.
- Place jar in a warm location and soak for 4–6 weeks. Shake bottle daily during this time.
- Strain herbs, and reserve liquid. Store in a cool, dark place.
- Administer 1/8 teaspoon of the tincture diluted in warm water or juice three times daily.
(Note: The herbs in this recipe can also be powdered and capsulated to administer to older children.)