Have you noticed your child tugging on their ear recently? Do they seem uncomfortable? If so, they might have an earache. Earaches can be a major stressor for parents, since they can cause major discomfort in children. While it’s important to inform their pediatrician if you suspect your child has an earache, some pediatricians will recommend home remedies for earaches, unless they're quite serious. Antibiotics for ear aches are usually used sparingly when it comes to kids, which can leave you looking for ways to help ease their pain.
To help you navigate the common question of how to treat ear infections in toddlers, we’ve provided a breakdown of the two primary types of earaches, as well as a few home remedies.
Types of ear infections
When you check with your child’s pediatrician, they can help you determine what type of earache your child has. The type of earache will indicate if antibiotics or natural earache remedies are the best option.
There's two common types of ear infection:
This type of ear infection impacts the area behind the eardrum (the middle ear), and can cause hearing issues, fever, and pain. An otitis media infection can be caused by bacteria, or viruses like the cold or flu. Often, the immune system is able to fight this infection on its own, but antibiotics might be required if the infection lasts longer than two or three days.
Otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear”
This infection typically causes inflammation in the ear canal, and is commonly caused by water that remains in the ear, creating a moist environment that can lead to bacterial growth. In some cases, a bacterial infection results. This issue can also be caused by putting fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects in the ear, as this can lead to scratches or abrasions in the ear canal.
Symptoms of a mild case of swimmer’s ear can include itchiness, redness, and mild pain in the ear, in addition to the drainage of a clear, odorless fluid from the ear. It can also sometimes cause a feeling of fullness in the ear, and impaired hearing. A more severe infection can lead to intense pain, a completely blocked ear canal, fever, and swelling in the outer ear and lymph nodes. Antibiotics are sometimes needed to treat this type of infection.
Additional causes of earaches
In addition to infections, earaches can also result from the following:
- Earwax build-up
- Teeth grinding
- Sinus infections
Luckily, there are a variety of home remedies for ear infection that can bring your child relief from this uncomfortable situation
1. Cold or warm compresses
Ear pain relief often starts with a cold or warm compress. An ice pack, warm washcloth, or heating pad gently applied to the affected ear can help ease any potential congestion in the ear, and relieve pain. It’s best to alternate between hot and cold every 10 minutes.
2. Olive oil for earaches
A few drops of warm, body temperature olive oil in the ear canal has been found to be safe, and sometimes effective at soothing discomfort from an earache. However, because this method hasn’t been heavily researched, check with your pediatrician before trying.
Tip: Make sure the olive isn't too hot by testing it with a thermometer.
3. Sleep without putting pressure on the ear
Because pressure on the ear can agitate an earache, it’s best to sleep with the affected ear off the pillow. Ideally, your child lies on their side with the unaffected ear on the pillow, and the other ear raised to increase its ability to drain. They can also sleep with their head and torso elevated by a few pillows. Since little kids move around frequently while sleeping, you may have to check in on them to slightly adjust them. Make sure your child is also old enough to sleep safely with a pillow or being propped up - very young children shouldn't sleep with blankets, pillows, or stuff animals in their crib.
4. Neck movements and exercises
As pressure in the ear canal can sometimes cause an earache, certain neck movements and exercises can alleviate discomfort.
Here’s how to do neck rotations, which can be one of the most beneficial exercises for relieving pressure in the ear canal.
- Start by having your child sit up straight with both feet on the ground
- Next, have them slowly rotate their head to the right until it’s aligned with their shoulder
- Have them rotate their head in the other direction until it’s aligned with their left shoulder
- Have them shrug their shoulders as high as they can
- Hold each movement for about five seconds before moving on to the next
- Repeat this cycle until they feel relief. They might have to do it numerous times throughout the day
5. Adding ginger to oil
Because ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, it can offer significant relief for an earache. Apply ginger juice, or strained oil that was warmed with ginger in it, around the outer ear canal, being sure not to let the oil get into the inner ear.
6. Adding garlic to oil
Another helpful remedy for earaches, garlic offers antibiotic and pain-relieving properties. Soak crushed garlic in warm olive or sesame oil, then strain the garlic out and apply the garlic-infused oil to the ear canal.
7. Using hydrogen peroxide for earaches or ear infections
Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most classic solutions for earaches, as it adds oxygen to wax, which can cause it to bubble and soften. Place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into the ear, and let it remain for several minutes. Next, let it drain into the sink, and rinse out the ear with clean, distilled water. You can wipe up residual moisture with hypoallergenic wipes to keep clean.
Most times, these natural remedies can help earaches and infection clear up within a day or two. If it lasts longer than two or three days, and is causing considerable pain, it’s best to contact your pediatrician. Luckily, many pediatricians will also recommend natural remedies, as they only want to use antibiotics in rare situations.