Winter weather and the accompanying coughs and sniffles can all too often lead to ear pain and ear infections. Thankfully, most ear infections get better without treatment, i.e., antibiotics are not required. In fact, clinical studies have noted that the most commonly prescribed antibiotic, amoxicillin, is no more effective than a placebo. That said, they can still be pretty uncomfortable. I’ve put together a list of home remedies for earaches to help soothe aching ears.
*Note: Never use eardrops or oils inside the ear if a child has ear tubes or there is a chance of eardrum perforation. Please see your healthcare practitioner if pain is extreme or persists for several days.
Home Remedies for Earaches #1 – Heat
When I was a little girl, I remember having an ear infection accompanied by the one very sore ear. To help me feel better, my mom took a small throw pillow and warmed it up in the oven. She left it in just bit too long, though, and it started to singe. The fire was put out, and I got to rest my head on one slightly charred pillow – which really did help to relieve the pain. Nowadays most houses have microwaves, and you can buy or make a hot pack that can be quickly heated up that way. Core Products, a small business located in western Wisconsin, makes soft covered hot/cold packs that we use all the time as foot warmers at night and for treating headaches. To make a simple hotpack, place popcorn or rice into an old sock or small pouch. Seal end and heat in short bursts until warm. Hot water bottles are a great option if you don’t have a microwave – just make sure you don’t get the water too hot.
Home Remedies for Earaches #2 – Onions
Onions are a preferred remedy in the book Be Your Own Doctor and with some of the folks on Earth Clinic. Some people simply cut an onion in half and place it over the affected ear. Others gently heat a small portion of the onion until warm but not soft, and tuck the heated onion into the ear. Some people wrap the onion in a warm, moist cloth, others use it directly on the ear. Another option is to squeeze out some onion juice, heat gently, and put a few drops into the ear. Recommended compress time seems to be around 10-15 minutes, or until the onion cools. Rest quietly while treating.
Home Remedies for Earaches #3 – Garlic Oil
There are dozens of variations of garlic in olive oil for earaches. One of the ones I like best is the “Children’s Ear Oil” from Herbal Antibiotics, which combines garlic and eucalyptus for a double anti-bacterial, anti-viral punch. This should be stored in a tinted bottle in a cool dark location, or in the refrigerator, and used within two weeks.
Children’s Ear Oil
Adapted from Herbal Antibiotics
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) good quality olive oil
- 20 drops eucalyptus essential oil
Place garlic and olive oil in a small sauce pan on low heat. Cook overnight or for eight hours. Strain, squeezing well to get as much oil as possible out of the garlic. Add eucalyptus essential oil and mix well. Store in a tinted bottle.
To use: Place glass eyedropper in a stream of hot water for 1 minutes (to warm dropper). Dry quickly (to retain heat) and suction up ear oil from bottle. Place 2 drops in both ears every half hour or as often as needed for 2 to 7 days. As mentioned at the top of the post, never place fluid into the ear if the eardrum is perforated. For very young children, heat and steam are the safest choices, or plain warm olive oil or coconut oil.
Top – mullein flowers, center – olive oil, bottom – garlic cloves
Home Remedies for Earaches #4 – Mullein Oil
Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is used for treating respiratory ailments and many other illnesses (see Weekly Weeder #13 – Common Mullein for more info). As an ear treatment, the flowers and buds are infused in olive oil, then applied to the ear in the same manner as the garlic oil above. To infuse the flowers in oil, gather enough blooms to partially fill a small jar. Cover with olive oil and let sit for a week or two. Strain and place in a tinted bottle. You can watch a video showing how to gather mullein flowers below. I like to let my blossoms set in a shallow bowl or on a plate for an hour or so before putting them in a jar with oil to give any buggies hiding in them a chance to escape. You can also add a clove of chopped garlic to your oil for extra germ fighting. For more information on the garlic and mullein oil, you can visit Kitchen Stewardship’s Natural Earache Remedy post.
If you don’t have fresh mullein blossoms available, you can buy mullein oil already made, such as the Ear Oil (with mullein and garlic) and mullein oil from Herb Pharm. Click here to order Herb Pharm Ear Oil for kids. They also carry St. John’s Wort oil, which is recommended for earaches in the book Prescription for Herbal Healing.
Home Remedies for Earaches #5 – Essential Oil Ear Ache Rub
This recipe is adapted from the book “Be Your Own Doctor” by Rachel Weaver, M.H.. The original ratios of essential oils (1 teaspoon each) seemed very high to me, so I have reduced them to be more in line with the recommendations given in Herbal Antibiotics. Remember, do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin – always use a carrier oil. Always be extra careful when using any of these oils on small children who may rub their ears and then rub the oil into their eyes.
Essential Oil Earache Rub
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
Mix all ingredients and apply gently around the ears at the first sign of infection. Reduces infection and relieves inflammation.
Home Remedies for Earaches #6 – Xylitol
Finnish researchers found that daycare children given five servings of two pieces of xylitol sweetened gum per day reduced their number of ear infections by nearly half. Another study found that using larger doses three times per day was not as effective – frequent dosing was required. You can read a detailed analysis of the studies in the article “Ear Infections and Xylitol“. While this is not a conventional pain reliever per se, it could help your child avoid the pain of an ear infection in the first place by keeping them healthy.
Home Remedies for Earaches #7 – Herbal Steam Inhalations
Herbal steam inhalations help reduce nasal swelling caused by cold, dry winter air and increase airflow to the eustachian tubes. To prepare an herbal steam inhalation, simply heat up a pot of water and pour it into a bowl or basin. Add a handful of fresh or dry herbs such as German chamomile, elderberry flowers and/or lemon balm. Lean over the basin and inhale the steam. To get the most out of the treatment, use a large towel to create a tent over your head and trap the steam.
Home Remedies for Earaches #8 – Apple Cider Vinegar
As I researched home remedies, I’ve found that people use apple cider vinegar (ACV) to cure just about everything. Earaches/ear infections are no exception. Dee from San Diego, California writes on Earth Clinic:
“ACV also works great when getting an earache. My ENT told me to put some in the ear at the first sign of trouble, leaving it there for a minute then letting the ACV run out the ear… Repeat one more time 12 hrs. Later. This has worked for us!”
Home Remedies for Earaches #9 – Hydrogen Peroxide
My friend, Julie, told me her mom used hydrogen peroxide on the ears of all 12 of her children. It’s also one of the most popular remedies on Earth Clinic. The easiest way to apply it is to soak a cotton ball and use it to squeeze a few drops into the ear. This will work to dislodge debris, so gently irrigating the area afterward with warm water to flush the debris clear may also be helpful.
Home Remedies for Earaches #10 – Honey
Honey, either local and raw or manuka, is another treatment suggested by Earth Clinic users. The honey is swabbed gently around the perimeter of the ear canal.
Home Remedies for Earaches #11 – Hot Herbal Tea
While you’re applying warmth from the outside, you can also apply warmth from the inside. Echinacea, German chamomile, and holy basil are herbs that promote healing and relaxation.
Home Remedies for Earaches #12 – Steam
Plug in the humidifier or still your head in a hot shower. As mentioned above, dry winter air does a number on our airways, which are connected to our ears. Opening and relaxing with moist air can relieve pressure and sometimes pain.
Preventing Ear Pain Before it Starts
If chronic ear infections are a problem, it should be noted that households with smokers have more ear issues, and infants who are breast fed have less than their formula fed counterparts. Also, many times food allergies can contribute to chronic ear infections. If you deal with chronic ear infections or other chronic health problems, try adjusting your diet. Common allergens include dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts – work with your health care provider to see if you can identify any problem foods. Keeping ears clean and dry can also help prevent ear issues. All information featured on this website is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please work with a trained healthcare provider.
If you have a persistant ear/sinus issues, check out this video from MassagebyHeather.com to help improve lymph drainage for the ears.
Don’t forget to check out the Full List of Home Remedies , including:
- Hot Water Bottle
- Core Products Comfort Hot Pack
- Children’s Ear Oil
- Xylitol Gum
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Teddy Bear Head Herbal Tea
- Raw Honey
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Originally published in 2013, updated in 2016.
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