Your kiddo is tugging on their ear again. Uh-oh. Or maybe ear pain is keeping you up at night. No matter the age, ear infections are no fun.
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While most cases of ear infections clear up on their own, there are a handful of at-home remedies that can help, like applying a hot or cold compress, using over-the-counter pain relievers or adjusting your sleep position.
“There are several home remedies for earaches,” says ENT-otolaryngologist Anh Nguyen-Huynh, MD. “Try them for the first two or three days if symptoms are mild.”
Dr. Nguyen-Huynh explains how some of these at-home remedies work, what to avoid and when to see a doctor.
Home remedies for an earache
Having that nagging pain in your ear can be uncomfortable, but using one of these home remedies can help relieve pain.
Hot or cold compress
Use an ice or heat pack and put it on the affected ear to help with pain. The temperature you use is up to you. But make sure to wrap it in a towel so it’s not too cold or too hot. If it’s too hot, you could cause burns.
You can also alternate between a cold and warm compress every 10 minutes.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
Pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen work as advertised, helping take the edge off the pain.
Both adults and kids can rest easier when they take acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the right dosage. These medications reduce pain and fever, making you feel more comfortable.
You can even take OTC pain relievers if you’re on antibiotics.
How you sleep can affect ear pain. Rest with your head on two or more pillows, so your affected ear is higher than the rest of your body. Or if your left ear has an infection, sleep on your right side.
Less pressure equals less ear pain. It could be effective, though a few inches may not make a big difference in pressure measurement. But if it makes you feel better, go for it.
Other remedies that may help
These other at-home remedies may provide some relief:
- Neck exercises. Rotating and stretching your neck can help ease pressure that’s built up in your ear canal.
- Ginger. With its anti-inflammatory properties, using ginger juice around the outer ear canal (not in the ear canal) may soothe pain.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear. After a few minutes, let it drain into a sink. Rinse off your ear.
Remedies to avoid
Not all remedies are created equally. Dr. Nguyen-Huynh suggests avoiding these at-home remedies for ear infections.
Be it garlic, tea tree or olive — people swear by putting oil in the ear to help with ear infections.
While garlic does have antibacterial properties, Dr. Nguyen-Huynh urges caution. If you’re using it for a middle ear infection, it won’t get to the source of the problem. And even if you do have a hole in your eardrum, there aren’t studies showing it’s safe to put garlic in there.
Over-the-counter numbing drops
Dr. Nguyen-Huynh also recommends avoiding over-the-counter numbing drops, which use benzocaine to numb the pain and antipyrine to help to decrease the pain and inflammation.
“The effect is very brief, and sometimes it does the opposite and stings the ear,” he says.
When to see your doctor
Dr. Nguyen-Huynh recommends seeing your doctor if:
- Your symptoms remain after two or three days, even if you’ve tried over-the-counter or home remedies.
- Your ear is very painful, or you have other symptoms that bother you.
- You have a fever over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)
Other common conditions like temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), can masquerade as earache infections. TMJ causes ear pain because your ear canal and jaw joint share a nerve.
“If you have ear pain along with trouble chewing, talking or yawning, then you should see a dentist or TMJ expert to be sure you’re treating the right condition,” advises Dr. Nguyen-Huynh.
The good news? Hot and cold compresses and OTC pain relievers can also help relieve TMJ pain until you sort things out.