Ears have been an interest of mine since setting up and running The Children’s Ear Clinic in Western Australia in 2000. Here we helped little children right through to adults, with all manner of ear issues, often with the blessing of their ENT specialists. Of course I still help parents manage ear problems, but now in the context of a general clinic situation.
Sometimes ear problems are as simple as waxy ears but often it is chronic and recurrent ear infections and glue ear that brings children to our clinic. Ear problems are frequently accompanied by a range of other conditions such as tonsillitis, asthma and allergies, and of course these are all included in our management protocols, because homeopathy treats the person and not just the symptoms. The reason we originally chose ears as the basis of our clinic was because it was a very simple thing to treat and the management of the majority of our cases was, and still is, very successful.
The most common ear problem in children under five is ear infections, with around 70% of all appointments with the GP in this age group for a sore ear, with or without symptoms such as sore throat and cold.
Research (1) has shown that the majority of ear infections show no significant improvement with antibiotics, with around 80% resolving in 1-3 days with or without medication. A good sized 2007 study (3) showed that there was little difference in outcomes between using homeopathic remedies and conventional treatments; with homeopathy coming in just ahead. This shows that you can manage ear problems naturally very successfully and without the side effects which often come with conventional medicines.
Ear infections are most likely to be the result of a virus, where antibiotics are ineffective anyway, and it is impossible to tell whether the problem is viral or bacterial without a swab being cultured. The tendency seems to be to err on the side of caution and for patients to be sent home with a script for antibiotics as a “just in case”. Sometimes this is antibiotic ear drops, which I don’t consider such a problem, but more often it is oral.
There are certainly more and more GPs out there who are disinclined to give antiobiotics and who instruct parents to wait, watch and manage with antipyretics (paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc) for fever and/or pain. The study referenced below (4) contains a long list of research articles on some of the serious issues which can arise from these drugs.
Sometimes we can’t avoid them if we have a child in pain or with fever*, but having another first option for support is a relief for many parents. With the increase in antibiotic resistant bugs, it is again really important to only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary and this is where homeopathy can also be helpful.
Breaking the cycle of antibiotics can be tricky and does require professional care from your homeopath to strengthen the child’s system and work out what remedies are going to help in the acute phase, if still occurring from time to time.
The beginnings of a sore ear can often be managed successfully at home, but I always recommend having your child checked by your GP. It is impossible to know what is going on without a check and it happens frequently that a small child is taken to the GP with a parent thinking the child has a sore throat or a urinary tract infection, when it is actually ear inflammation or ear pain.
An undiagnosed and untreated ear infection can not only be painful but may result in a burst eardrum. This in itself is not a problem if it is a one-off, but recurrence of this may result in problems with hearing in the long term through scarring of the drum, so good management of ear problems (including constitutional treatment to break the cycle) is of utmost importance.
From a homeopathic perspective we don’t need to know exactly what is going on to begin to support a child with a sore ear at home. Remember we are selecting a remedy to match the whole picture – mental, emotional, as well as physical – not prescribing based on symptoms only. This means if your child wakes at night and you suspect something is going on, you can start using your remedies until you are able to get to the GP.
Teething is often a time when the ears may flare up. This is common, although many GPs and paediatricians will tell you this is not the case. My money is on an observant mum in this situation and there has certainly been a study (5) undertaken of doctors, pharmacists and parents on this very topic!
Molars and eye teeth seem to cause most problems, although some babies are just bad teethers and need a lot of help to build a stronger and more resilient system. If a child is prone to frequent ear infections, with or without teething, and has had more than one course of antibiotics, constitutional treatment with an experienced homeopath will be required to bring the immune system back to a point where it is strong enough to work with the remedies effectively.
My colleague Penny Barron at the Aurum Project undertook research into the homeopathic treatment of glue ear which showed good outcomes. While you’re not going to be treating glue ear in the home, it’s useful to know the research is out there. (2)
One of the things I always recommend excluding when there are problems with the ears is dairy in all forms, except yoghurt if tolerated (see my note below). This is a simple and often effective elimination and the majority of children who have mucous will benefit from this. The effect of milk is cumulative, so even a small amount given irregularly builds up and suppresses immune function and produces mucous.
Regardless of whether an allergy or intolerance is suspected, it’s good to allow the immune system the space to function unburdened by dairy when a child is sick. Some children may have a milk protein allergy, rather than lactose intolerance, and in this case dairy should be completely eliminated.
For more information on supporting the system with probiotics see the link below (5).
Avoiding things like processed wheat products and other processed foods and sugars is important at any time, but I’ve seen significant improvement with ears just by avoiding dairy.
Below are the basics of managing the start of a sore ear at home and this will more often than not resolve the problem. If you are not successful with your home prescribing, ie the problem is not resolving in 24 hours, see your healthcare provider and contact your homeopath for a consultation. If antibiotics are required or you are concerned and choose to give them, you can still use your homeopathics alongside to support the
Remember that antibiotic resistance is becoming a very real problem in our world and unnecessary use of these drugs can leave you with no tools when they are really required. Any ongoing requirement for antibiotics will definitely need constitutional care to strengthen the body’s attempts to bring balance to the whole system.
Remedies for Ears
Remedies for the early stages of a mild acute illness are below. These remedies relate not just to ears but anything which matches the pictures described.
For more information see our Home Remedy Notes on the website. TS Acutes, Belladonna, Chamomilla and Pulsatilla are the most frequently indicated
remedies, but won’t necessarily suit every child. I’ve added a few other common remedies. There are many more remedies which might be indicated, but these are most likely. If you are not having success with your home prescribing the three most likely problems are:
1. You have selected a remedy that doesn’t fit the bigger picture of what is going on.
2. The child actually needs some constitutional treatment to address the underlying weakness so their system is able to work with your remedies.
3. Your remedy is out of date or has been contaminated and is no longer effective.
TS Acutes – has long been a favourite of mine for treating a variety of ear symptoms. It is a combination tissue salt (Ferrum Phos, Kali Mur, Nat Mur – see below) which has an affinity for ears, mucous and inflammation. You could use the remedies individually but this is a tried and tested formula which is good for the beginning of many acute illnesses in children.
- Ferrum Phos is a good remedy when you have a suspicion something is brewing but have no symptoms to pin a remedy on. It is also indicated for the first signs of low grade inflammation (which you may not be able to see) and low fever (which you may be more aware of).
- Kali Mur is a good remedy wherever there is nasal discharge, congestion or fluid in the ears and it helps the mucous membranes to stay healthy.
- Nat Mur has an affinity for the fluid systems of the body and is good when colds start with watery mucous and sneezing. This seems to be more common in adults, but may be present in children too.
At the first sign there may be a problem or when a runny nose develops, I recommend you give the remedy every hour on the first day. If it seems to be holding the symptoms at bay, then reduce to three or four times a day for a further 3 days. In a reasonably healthy child this may be all that is required.
If symptoms are very strong you can give up to 5 doses 10 minutes apart, then reduce to hourly for the following day but this is only necessary if the symptoms are really intense!
If you find yourself in the situation of having a clear symptom picture to prescribe on here are my favourite single remedies:
Belladonna – Ear pain comes on quickly with fever (*see below); the child is red and radiates heat and the external ear looks red. The child may either be hyper or very lethargic and may have hallucinations with fever. There is usually no thirst.
Chamomilla – If the child is cranky, clingy and has ear pain, especially with teething, Chamomilla is usually the right remedy. Often the child will have one bright red cheek and they may not know what they want, asking for something and then pushing it away.
Pulsatilla – If the nasal discharge has got to the stage of being yellow/green or just green and the ears feel blocked (or hearing seems low) give three or four times a day for three days. The child is usually weepy and clingy with no thirst. You should have already consulted your GP by this stage!
Aconite – is useful for ear pain with fever and thirst which comes on suddenly and strongly around midnight, particularly after being out in the cold or wind.
ABC – is a combination which can be good for pain relief and all of the remedies (Aconite, Belladonna, Chamomilla 30c) cover fever, which often accompanies ear pain. This is a good remedy to have on hand if you have strong fever or pain symptoms but you’re not sure which remedy to give on its own.
NB: A child under 6 months with a fever should always be seen by a GP or ED.
The Melbourne Children’s Hospital’s advice is to not give antipyretics (Panadol, Neurofen) in fevers under 38.5c, so ABC is a good combination and doesn’t need too much thinking about.
Give every 10 minutes for up to 5 doses or until the child is settled and reduce the frequency of doses as they improve. One dose is often sufficient to bring relief. This allows you to save your antipyretics for when they are really necessary.
Merc Sol – will usually be accompanied by bad breath, thick white coated tongue, green mucous, offensive odor of the ear and slimy discharges (mucous, stool, etc).
Hepar Sulph – may have a sore throat as if there is a fish bone stuck in there with pain extending to the ear. You may pick this up just by the difficulty in swallowing and lack of appetite and thirst. These patients tend to be very irritable and chilly.
Obviously there are many more remedies which could be required for ear infections as every child is different, but these will suit a large number of children if given early.
*A child under 6 months with a fever should always be seen by a GP or ED..
(1) Will antibiotics help relieve symptoms in babies and toddlers?http://www.informedhealthonline.org/middle-ear-infections-will-antibioticshelp.2233.en.html?part=behandlung-ko-lhgk-uw62
(2) Can Homeopathy be used for glue ear? Barron, P; http://aurumproject.org.au/homeopathy-glue-ear/
(3) Homeopathic and conventional treatment for acute respiratory and ear complaints: a comparative study on outcome in the primary care setting; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17335565
(4) A clinical and safety review of paracetamol and ibuprofen in children; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5306275/#CR70
(5) Teething symptoms: cross sectional survey of five groups of child health professionals; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC128949/
(6) Probiotic Advisor; https://www.probioticadvisor.com/dr-jason-hawrelak/#.WoSa1ehubwI