How to prevent and treat ear infections, naturally!

How to prevent and treat ear infections, naturally!

In this article, we will discuss simple ways to prevent common ear infections in children and how to treat them successfully if they do occur. If you are a parent, you have likely been to the doctor on more than one occasion because your child has come down with a painful ear infection. Antibiotics are overused, over-prescribed (dare I say abused!) and often, unnecessary.

Let me start by saying that even the CDC states that a “watch and wait” approach to treating ear infections is recommended. According to the CDC, middle ear infections, “may not need antibiotics in many cases because the body’s immune system can fight off the infection without help from antibiotics” and a mild case “will often get better on its own without antibiotic treatment, so your health care professional may recommend watchful waiting before prescribing antibiotics to you or your loved one.”

That’s pretty encouraging, right?

Another form of watchful waiting is delayed prescribing. This means that your pediatrician may give you an antibiotic prescription, but he or she may
ask you to wait 2–3 days to see if your child is still sick with fever, ear pain, or other symptoms before filling the prescription. Having a prescription handy may give some parents peace of mind if things do take a turn for the worse or fail to improve. I have left the doc with a filled prescription on a few occasions and have never cracked the bottle open. Our bodies know what to do to correct these problems and our immune systems often do without interference!

What is an ear infection?

Middle ear infections are called Otitis Media, and they can be caused by viruses or bacteria.

The middle ear is the space behind the eardrum, which is connected to the back of the throat by a passageway called the Eustachian tube. Middle ear infections can occur when congestion from allergies or colds block the Eustachian tube. Fluid and pressure builds up, so bacteria and/or viruses that have traveled up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear can multiply and cause an ear infection. Middle ear infections are the most common type of ear infection in children and adults. Symptoms of an earache can include pain (earache), temporary decrease in hearing and fever.

Now let’s jump on my list of ways to prevent ear infections from occurring in the first place!

Prevention is key! This list will be much longer than my remedy list 😊 :

Kids are picky, I get it, mine are too, but restricting certain foods and beverages, especially when your child is ill with a cold or the flu is paramount. There are many supplements to consider as well as other factors that can prevent the dreaded ear infection.

  • Kids who drink juice and dairy products get more ear infections, that’s a fact. These beverages encourage the production of mucus in the upper respiratory system, while the sugars in milk and juice depress immune function. This can lead to congestion in the chest, sinuses and ears, which is the perfect situation for an ear infection (and a decreased ability to fight it off!)  Kids should not drink juice daily especially when ill. Sugar and refined, processed foods should also be avoided in general and especially during an illness. (even natural, organic sweets!)

Offer fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and other whole, nutrient dense foods to older children and BREASTFEED babies at least to age 1!

  • Breastfeeding has been proven to decrease ear infections (and other illnesses) in children. Breastfed babies have been shown to get at least HALF the amount of ear infections as formula fed babies. Formula feeding can increase ear infection risk, especially if baby is bottle fed lying down. If you have to use formula, be sure baby is at a 45 degree, upright angle when feeding. This prevents milk from getting from the back of the throat up into the immature eustachian tubes where it can be a site for infection. This is more of a risk with cow’s milk and formula feeding.

Pacifier use increases ear infection risk – for this and other reasons, avoiding pacifier use is recommended.

  • Water is always the preferred choice of beverage for kids! Herbal teas can also be given slightly warm or chilled, lightly sweetened with a touch of local honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses or left unsweetened.
chamomile tea

Some of my favorite herbal teas for kids include chamomile, lemon balm, fennel seed, ginger and lavender either alone or in combination. Lavender tea alone is quite strong-tasting, so if you have dried lavender buds at home, add a pinch to ½ cup lemon balm and ½ cup dried chamomile flowers for a safe, stress busting tea that will also encourage deeper sleep at naptime and bedtimes. Use 2 tsp. of herbal mixture per cup of water that has reached boiling. Steep 10 minutes, enjoy when cooled sufficiently or store in the fridge and give by the spoonful as needed to babies. (Adding fennel seed and ginger to your herbal tea blend will help with colic and other digestive problems—tip: fresh ginger is not as spicy as dried!) These herbs soothe the body and mind which leads to my next point, addressing STRESS.

  • Stress in kids suppresses the immune system (adults too for that matter!) If *you* are stressed, your child can pick up on that and he or she can become stressed. The herbs I mentioned above are super safe for babies and excellent soothers! I make and use a lovely chamomile tincture that is excellent to have on hand for stress, teething, sleep and colic! Chamomile works wonders in kids and adults! You can grab a bottle right here (link to my chamomile tincture)
  • Supplement with the appropriate amounts of Vitamin D3, Zinc, Vitamin C and probiotics daily and especially when a cold takes hold. Be sure your child is getting adequate amounts of sleep. I always enjoyed bathing my kids with lavender when they were younger. Do not underestimate the calming power of an herbal bath! Every home needs a bottle of lavender essential oil! Try blending 1-3 drops of pure, lavender essential oil with ½ to 1 cup Epsom salts. Stir in 1 Tbsp coconut or olive oil, blend well and add this mixture to a warm, not hot, bath for a soothing, relaxing bedtime soak for kids of all ages! Soothing bedtime rituals are a great way for babies and kids to relax and sleep soundly, and, heck, mom will also inhale that lovely lavender aroma and smile as well!
  • Children exposed to second hand smoke are at greater risk for ear infections. Exposure to tobacco smoke, and even the residue of smoke on a caregiver’s clothes, dramatically increases the risk of your child getting ear infections and upper respiratory infections. Plug ins, scented fabric softeners, detergents, perfumes and candles can also contribute to respiratory problems & allergies which can, in turn, lead to ear infections. Free your home of these toxic artificial scents and watch everyone’s health in the home improve!

Address known allergies immediately and try your best to get to root of other allergic reactions. This can be a daunting experience, but quite necessary to see improvements in health. 

  • Chiropractic care! This could very well be one of the most important things we can do for optimal health for our children (and ourselves). The spine can (and does!) misalign in the upper neck and that will affect the way the body heals. When an ear infection is present, fluid is getting trapped in the middle ear cavity, which then creates an environment for viruses and bacteria to flourish. The idea behind chiropractic care for ear infections is that spinal manipulation, especially of the cervical vertebrae (neck) can help relax the muscles surrounding the Eustachian Tubes allowing for proper drainage. Chiropractic care also aims to restore the natural function of the nervous system, which can benefit the health of the entire body. My 3 kids have been seen by our chiropractor since they were babies and they are vibrantly healthy children with very few illnesses and NONE has ever been on antibiotics for an ear infection, or any other reason for that matter. (one exception being my daughter when she was 4 as an experimental treatment for severe skin problems. I will blog about this separately because not only did the antibiotics not work for this, we learned the hard way how to heal severe eczema!)

Ask your friends and family for a great chiropractor recommendation in your area and you will see what a huge difference it can make in the health and happiness of your family!

Natural Treatment Options–What’s a mom to do?

So, your child starts pulling on her ear or tells you “Mommy, my ear hurts.” First of all, take a deep breath and say to yourself ‘MOST ear infections go away all on their own with 2-3 days.’ Repeat as needed!

Let’s talk about things you can do immediately to help the pain and inflammation decrease and clear the infection.

Always keep raw honey handy for herbal syrup making!
  • At the first sign or symptom of a cold or the flu, please start Elderberry and Echinacea right away. This trusted, proven remedy can nip an illness in the bud before it becomes a full-blown virus and it certainly cuts down on sick days and secondary infections like sinus and ear infections. I recommend DIY Elderberry Syrup, available right here. Making this excellent remedy is easy and it lets you control the amount and type of sweetener you choose. Much more information and instructions are found in the link provided above and you can purchase it today so you will always have it handy! This treatment is full of Vitamin C, antiviral and antibacterial compounds and anti-inflammatory relief.
  • Remember that all-important bottle of lavender essential oil we talked about above? … well, this is a great, soothing, anti-inflammatory remedy for outer ear massage. Simply make a massage oil by adding 5 drops of pure, lavender essential oil to 2 Tbsp of coconut OR olive oil. Store in a jar with lid. Very gently massage the outer jaw of affected ear, including all the way behind and around the painful ear. Repeat 2-3 times daily.

Alternately, you can apply 1-2 drops of lavender oil to a warm, not hot, wash cloth and apply over the affected ear for 15 minutes at a time as needed to reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Garlic ear oil!  If there is one thing I recommend (and use) most often for ear pain, it is garlic ear oil. This classic herbal remedy works so quickly that 1-2 uses is, oftentimes, all you’ll need! Garlic is a natural antimicrobial, addressing infections of both a bacterial and viral nature. Garlic ear oil is readily available in nearly every health food store or online or you can make it at home. You will often see garlic combined with other herbs such as mullein which is a lovely analgesic herb.

I like this one and always keep it on hand.  (Willow and Garlic Ear Oil Drops by Herbs for Kids) This remedy combines garlic with other wonderful herbs for pain/inflammation and infection. The directions are simple and it’s always wise to treat both ears because the infection can travel. Shake well. To warm, place entire bottle in warm water. Test on inner wrist before using to assure safe temperature. Always use warm. Apply 3-5 drops in both ears as needed, up to 5 times a day. Cover with clean dry cotton. Do not use if eardrum is perforated.  Ingredients:Extra Virgin Olive oil, Fresh Garlic cloves, Calendula flower, Willow bark, Usnea lichen and Vitamin E oil.

This treatment hasn’t failed me yet and I think you’ll love it too!

Colloidal silver is a suspension of minute silver particles in water. A known antibiotic, colloidal silver has been used by various cultures as a topical and internal medication for hundreds of years. However, following the discovery of penicillin and subsequent increase in commercially prepared antibiotics, the medicinal value of colloidal silver was discounted. BUT, this does not lessen the value and effectiveness of silver for bacterial infections. I use and recommend this one (link to my colloidal silver). Our family has used it countless times for ear infections and other common ailments (like pink eye) at home– very successfully I might add! I recommend silver to moms all the time and they are always pleased with the results.

If you want to get geeky on how colloidal silver actually works in the body, here you go:

According to a report written by Richard Davies and Samuel Etris of The Silver Institute in a 1996, there are three primary ways that colloidal silver can help heal the body.

  • Catalytic Oxidation: Silver naturally holds onto oxygen molecules, which readily react with the sulfhydral (H) groups that surround bacterial and viruses. In turn, this helps block the life-preserving cellular process known as cellular respiration, which is defined as “the set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and then release waste products.” 
  • Reaction with Bacterial Cell Membranes: Silver particles can attach to bacteria cell membranes directly and produce the same respiration-blocking effect.
  • Binding with DNA: Shown to literally enter bacteria DNA, up to 12% of silver has been detected in Pseudomonas aeruginosa (the most common type of bacteria affecting humans). According to one source, “While it remains unclear exactly how the silver binds to the DNA without destroying the hydrogen bonds holding the lattice together, it nevertheless prevents the DNA from unwinding, an essential step for cellular replication to occur.” 

We use colloidal silver both internally and externally as needed without the worry of unwanted side effects.  AND, silver DOES NOT create bacterial resistance like many prescribed antibiotics! Silver will not create bacterial mutations, in fact, colloidal silver is effective in eliminating some resistant strains of bacteria. Overuse and abuse of prescribed antibiotics is what is creating antibiotic resistant “super-bugs!”  Silver does not do that. You may come across warnings about colloidal silver causing a condition called argyria (when people turn blue). However, this is caused by misuse of cheaper products marketed as colloidal silver, such as ionic silver or silver protein. True colloidal silver isn’t capable of doing this!

When an ear infection is suspected, you can take a dropperful of colloidal silver by mouth several times daily, and place a 1-2 drops into the ears as well.

  • Breastmilk and REST

I have heard stories from dozens of moms who have used their own breastmilk in their kid’s ears to successfully treat ear infections. (pink eye, too!) It is safe, natural, made BY you FOR your baby, so why not give it a shot if you are a breastfeeding mother!? Just apply several drops of your mama milk into each ear as needed (plus it’s already body temperature, how soothing!)

Don’t underestimate the power of rest during or following an ear infection. The body is working hard to create balance and rid the body of pathogens, so rest and hydration are always recommended during and after an ear infection episode. I settle my kids in their bed or on the couch with their favorite movie or books, a soft blanket and a cool drink of water or herbal tea and allow them to just be still for at least a day after the pain has gone.

Now if you have the Garlic Ear Oil/Colloidal Silver combo, Elderberry & Echinacea formula, and follow some of these recommendations for prevention and treatment, you will be sitting pretty in the ear infection department and you will no longer fear the dreaded whine…

“Mommy my ear hurts.” again!

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you when a trip to the pediatrician IS necessary.

When to see the doc:

  • If your child seems very sick with a fever over 102 and has other symptoms such as stiff neck, a trip to the doctor is warranted.  
  • Doctors and experts usually recommended that babies under 6 months old always be seen by a medical professional if an ear infection is suspected.
  • If your child experiences sudden hearing loss, dizziness or severe pain, go see the doc.
  • If you notice, redness, swelling or pain behind or around your child’s ear, it’s time to see the doc, especially if your child does not move the muscles on that side of his or her face.
  • If the pain has not subsided after 3 days or if the pain is worse in day 2 or 3, see the doctor.
Tinctures, what are they anyway? And Can I give them to my children?

Tinctures, what are they anyway? And Can I give them to my children?

One question I get quite often is this “Is it ok to give my child a tincture?” The short answer is yes, but let’s explore this, shall we!? Take a look, then you decide!

First, let’s talk about why tinctures are so wonderful and learn a bit more about what they are!

What is it?

Tincture definition: A concentrated herbal extract made by soaking (macerating) herbs in solvents like alcohol and water and then pressing the liquid out for medicinal use.

Herbalists commonly use alcohol as medicine making medium because it is so effective at extracting herbal constituents. We also use water (when making herbal teas) and vinegar sometimes to extract certain herbal compounds, as well as honey and vegetable glycerin. A tincture made with vegetable glycerin as the menstruum is known as a glycerite. Glycerites are popular for children and pets because they are mild and sweet, and there is no alcohol involved. Glycerites are nice and useful, but they are not as potent as a tincture made with alcohol.

Why use it?

These other mediums are acceptable and useful in certain situations, but nothing beats alcohol as a menstruum (the solvents or solvent used to make a liquid extract, usually a blend of alcohol and water).

Using alcohol as the menstruum extracts fat soluble and water soluble herbal constituents, including resins, minerals, and vitamins. No wonder alcohol is the preferred method in tincture making!

Another benefit of using alcohol in tinctures is this – alcohol is a fast delivery system! Not only is an alcohol-based extract (aka tincture) a convenient, shelf-stable medicine, our bodies absorb a tincture very quickly and effectively. Tinctures can be taken under the tongue, but as a rule, most experienced herbalists recommend taking a tincture dose in a shot of warm or room temperate water (or in juice – in the case of giving to young children). Taking supplements sublingually can be done, but when using an alcohol-based tincture, this may not be a good idea because it can burn the delicate tissue under the tongue, no matter your age! In a pinch, take on the tongue, not under it if this concerns you.

What’s the shelf life?

Tinctures have a very long shelf life, usually 5 years or more if it’s made properly, so you can keep a tincture in your cupboard for years and years, and when you’re ready to use it again, it will still be potent and fresh, thanks to the alcohol.

Tinctures travel well. Since they need no refrigeration, you can simply toss a bottle in your bag whether making a trip across town or across the country. Tinctures aren’t “fussy” so take them with you wherever you go if needed. One other thing I find lovely about tinctures is you can leave your favorite ones on your bedside table without the worry of refrigeration. This comes in really handy if you are sick and cannot easily get out of bed to go after your herbal medicines. They do just fine on the nightstand, and I always leave a bottle of my Dream Faerie Tincture right there because I take it every night before bed and once again if I wake up in the middle of the night.

Now that you understand what a tincture is let’s move on to the question of alcohol being given to children.

Foods containing ethanol (alcohol):

Are you aware that many foods that kids eat regularly have measurable amounts of alcohol?

Bread and other baked goods, ripe bananas and fruit juices in particular. Some foods, per serving, contain more ethanol (alcohol) than a child’s dose of herbal tincture. Reference:

Alcohol is a naturally occurring constituent of fermented foods such as bread, yogurt, kefir, vinegar and kombucha and non-fermented foods as well such as fruit juices.

Orange, apple, and grape juices had the highest amount of ethanol. Some of these foods tested contained 2-4 times more ethanol than exposure to herbal medicines.

We don’t worry about these low levels of alcohol in popular children’s foods, (you probably didn’t even know it existed!) so there is no need to worry about it when using an herbal tincture on occasion. We can provide this information to you, but ultimately, you decide what is right for you and your family.

Ethanol is even present (in low concentrations) as an endogenous substance in the blood of humans, probably produced in the intestinal tract!

Now let’s discuss dosage and hear from some experts!

Tincture Dosage for Children and Adults: Tincture dosage can vary widely from person to person, but the general rule (as stated by acclaimed herbalists and natural health professionals) for children is this:

  • Age 9 months to 3 years: 2-5 drops per dose
  • Age 4 to age 10: 5-15 drops per dose
  • Older children and teens can usually take an adult dose.

*An adult dose varies but 30-60 drops is a typical adult dose, titrating up or down as needed. Experimentation is often called for when using plants as medicine.

There is no hard and fast dosage for everyone!

We always take into account the age, weight, and overall health of the individual when giving herbal tinctures and other medicines. But using this guideline, you can feel comfortable using herbal tinctures at home.
Many herbalists and others familiar with these types of medicines, use tinctures with children without hesitation.

But if you are new to this idea and are unsure, let’s hear what Dr. Aviva Romm has to say on the subject. Dr. Aviva Romm is not only an experienced herbalist of many decades, but she is a medical doctor (Yale-trained), midwife, and educator!

Dr. Romm states,Used appropriately, liquid herbal extracts—tinctures—are among the most valuable and effective botanical tools for treating children’s health concerns. They are very concentrated, so only small doses are required. Tinctures can be hidden in water or juice with practically no detection for most herbs that you’d use with kids.

Dr. Romm is my go-to expert when I need correct advice on herbal medicine, particularly for women and children… she has it all!

In conclusion: Alcohol-based herbal tinctures are an effective, time-tested method of delivering remedies to children of all ages. (Adults in the AA program and other sober individuals may also enjoy these plant medicines without the worry of compromising their health or sobriety!)

The dosage of a tincture is equal to or much less than the alcohol found in commons baked goods, some fruits, fruit juices, and fermented foods.

Many well-known, revered herbalists and health care professionals recommend alcohol-based herbal tinctures to kids of all ages.

If you still aren’t comfortable using herbal tinctures with your kids, there are other preparations to consider…herbal teas being the most common and easily accessed. (but that is a whole other blog post!)