Ear infections are very common, especially in children, and can often cause discomfort and pain.
The most common type of ear infection is called a middle ear infection, or otitis media, and almost half of children will have three or more middle ear infections before their third birthday.
A slightly less common type of infection is otitis externa, an infection of the outer ear that is often called swimmer’s ear.
Not all ear infections, whether they are middle or external ear infections, require antibiotics. Depending on the cause of your infection, your doctor or pediatrician may recommend home remedies that can help soothe your symptoms.
In this article, I’ll describe different home remedies for ear infections.
I’ll also discuss whether or not ear infections require antibiotics, and when you should reach out to your doctor or pediatrician for further evaluation.
Cold or Warm Compresses
An ice or heat pack can help soothe the pain associated with an ear infection.
Consult your doctor on which is best to use, and be sure not to use a pack that is too hot or too cold to avoid a burn or freezing injury.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medication
For mild ear infections, your doctor may recommend OTC pain relievers to help relieve your symptoms while waiting for the infection to clear.
Talk to your doctor about which OTC pain medication they recommend to help alleviate your pain.
Popular options include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
Keep in mind that not all OTC pain relievers are suitable for children, and that the dose is based on their weight, so be sure to speak with your child’s pediatrician about which medications are safe to use.
Some neck exercises can be used to relieve pressure on the ear canal, which can contribute to ear pain experienced during an ear infection.
Ask your doctor or otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist, or ENT) about which exercises may help soothe ear pain.
Unfortunately, the use of olive oil for an ear infection is a folk remedy.
There is no evidence to show that putting olive oil into your ears can treat or soothe the symptoms of an ear infection.
Avoid putting any foods, oils, or vinegars into your ears.
Similarly, there is very little evidence that garlic can be an effective home remedy for ear infections.
Although garlic does have antibacterial properties, food products should generally not be placed into your ears.
In this case, there aren’t enough studies to show that putting garlic or garlic oil into your ear is safe, and it should be avoided.
Ginger is often anecdotally recommended as a home remedy for ear infections because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
However, just like the use of garlic and olive oil, there is little to no evidence that it can effectively treat an ear infection.
Small amounts of hydrogen peroxide are present in OTC ear drops used to soften earwax to make it easier to remove.
However, putting hydrogen peroxide into your ear can be dangerous if you use too much, and it can further damage your ears if you have an active ear infection.
Hydrogen peroxide can, however, be a safe preventative measure for swimmer’s ear. To use this remedy, put half an ear dropper full of 3% hydrogen peroxide into your ear.
This will help to remove wax that can trap water and bacteria in your ear.
Once the solution starts to bubble, tilt your head and gently tug on your ear to let the solution drain out of your ear.
Before using hydrogen peroxide or ear drops that contain hydrogen peroxide, talk to your doctor or ENT.
No long-term studies have proved the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for ear infections.
However, for some adults and children, chiropractic care may help soothe symptoms and discomfort.
Most chiropractic treatments involve the manipulation of the body to re-align the skeleton.
As with any alternative care, be sure to find a trustworthy and safe practitioner, and when in doubt, talk to your doctor about the safety of such procedures and treatments.
Tea Tree Oil
Though some people may recommend putting tea tree oil in your ear for an ear infection, doctors caution against taking this approach.
There is no concrete evidence that such oil can help, and—in the case of a middle ear infection—the oil can’t even reach the source of the infection.
If you have an active ear infection, try sleeping on two or more pillows so that your infected ear is higher than the rest of your body.
Alternatively, try sleeping on the unaffected ear. For example, if your ear infection is in the left ear, try sleeping on the right.
The goal is to apply as little pressure as possible to the infected ear during sleep.
Results from existing studies on the effectiveness of homeopathic or naturopathic ear drops in treating ear infections are limited and mixed.
Experts remain unclear on whether or not this treatment is beneficial.
More importantly, many of these products are not monitored or measured by the FDA, so the ingredients can vary greatly from what’s listed on the package.
Apple Cider Vinegar
However, these studies have not specifically measured the safety and efficacy of using apple cider vinegar to treat ear infections.
Don’t put foods, oils, or vinegars into your ears without speaking to your doctor first.
Do Ear Infections Require Antibiotics?
Some ear infections, specifically those caused by a bacterial infection, may require antibiotics.
If this is your first time experiencing symptoms, or if your symptoms persist for several days, reach out to your doctor, otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist, or ENT), or pediatrician (if your child is experiencing symptoms).
Keep in mind that a middle ear infection in an adult can be a sign of a more serious problem than in that of a child, which is why it’s important to see your healthcare provider for treatment.
If you experience chronic ear infections, talk to your primary care provider, an ENT, or an otologist (an ear sub-specialist).
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K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Otitis Media. (2020). https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/Content%20Images/otitismedia.pdf
Antifungal Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar on Candida Species Involved in Denture Stomatitis. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25219289/
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatment Options for Otitis Media. (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753897/
The antibacterial activity and stability of acetic acid. (2013). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195670113001849
The effect of hydrogen peroxide applied to the middle ear on inner ear function. (2003). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14603071/