Home Remedies for Ear Infections

Woman suffering from an ear ache
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When it comes to ear infections, they are one of the most common reasons parents take their kids to see a healthcare professional. In fact, three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.

But these infections are not limited to children Although less common, adults, as well as certain people who are prone to these infection types, can be plagued by an ear infection. For this reason, it is helpful to know how to treat these conditions at home, especially because many ear infections will clear up on their own without the need for antibiotics.

Types of Ear Infections

Ear infections—also called acute otitis media—involve the middle of the ear, which is the space behind the eardrum containing the vibrating bones. Although children experience ear infections more than adults because of their still-forming ear canal, adults can get them as well as certain people are prone to these infection types.

Another middle ear condition called otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up in the ear without an infection. These types of infections sometimes require antibiotic treatment if they do not heal on their own. Some medical professionals prefer watchful waiting before prescribing antibiotics right away.

Outer ear infections, known as swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, are caused by water persisting in the outer ear canal for an extended period of time. This allows bacteria to form. If you have symptoms of swimmer's ear, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider.

For adults, ear infection symptoms include pain when lying down, trouble sleeping, trouble hearing, and fluid drainage from the ear.

With children, they experience the same ear infection symptoms as adults, and they also might endure headaches, have a loss of appetite, run a fever, and tug at the ear in attempts to remove the pain.

Causes of an ear infection or earache include having the flu, a cold, cavities, sinus pressure, tonsillitis, and incessantly grinding your teeth.

Home Remedies for Ear Infections

Acute otitis media is among the most common infectious diseases. Although ear infections remain prevalent among children, parents remain cautious about administering any medications to treat this condition due to concerns about adverse effects. This often leads to less-than-ideal pain management. 

Children and adults with ear infection symptoms don't have to live with the discomfort as they wait for a healthcare appointment. You can treat the ache with home remedies and not feel fearful of side effects. Here are some potential home remedies you may want to try.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Do you feel nervous giving a child an over-the-counter pain relief medication? You should not, as ibuprofen is one of the most effective methods of relieving ear pain.

According to a qualitative study from BMC Family Practice,  researchers found that parents were not aware that healthcare professionals consider it OK for parents to provide ibuprofen to children with ear infections without their explicit medical advice. Parents who did administer ibuprofen for ear infections found the medication effective. In addition, they felt more confident in giving greater and more regular doses of ibuprofen for ear infections in the future.

You do need to follow the instructions on the medication for proper dosage, whether giving it to a child or an adult. The amount and frequency of administration depend on age and other factors, such as medical history. For children under 2 years old, you should contact your medical professional before you give any dose of ibuprofen.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and can help with swimmer’s ear. A comprehensive review published in Scientific Reports investigated the antimicrobial capacity of apple cider vinegar
against several common bacteria.

Researchers found that the vinegar impaired cell integrity and proteins for microbes, and the liquid offered extensive antimicrobial potential.

To use on an ear infection, fill a small bowl with equal parts apple cider vinegar with warm water. Using a dropper, tilt your head to the side and add a few drops of the mixture into your ear. Keep your head tilted for up to 10 minutes and then tilt your head down to drain the excess liquid.

Ginger-Infused Oil

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, oil infused with ginger can help relieve ear infection pain. In a review of current evidence on ginger’s use in health, researchers found that this spice can help combat inflammatory disorders caused by infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria, as well as foreign objects (like germs and cancer cells) entering into the body.

To use, rub an infused ginger oil to the outer part of the infected ear only. Avoid having the liquid get into the inner ear canal.

Cold Compress

You can use a store-bought cold compress or make your own ice pack to reduce inflammation and pain in your ear, as the coldness will numb the area.

To create a cold pack, run cold water on a towel and drain. Place the towel in a plastic bag and freeze for 15 minutes. Lie down on the side of the infected ear and place the frozen pack under your ear. Keep the ice pack on the ear for 15 minutes.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is water with an extra oxygen molecule, and is mostly known for its use in cleaning products. But the solution can help attack germs, and it offers antiviral and antibacterial properties.

You should use it with caution, though. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide is about 97% water, and even with a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, you should be careful not to inhale the liquid.

For ear infections, use a dropper to soak up a few drops. Tilt the head and place a few drops into the ear. After a few minutes, tilt your head down and let any excess liquid drain out.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Ear infections often go away on their own. However, if you or your child experiences an ear infection for an extended period of time, serious issues can occur. You should contact a healthcare provider if you have any of the following:

  • Severe pain
  • Symptoms lasting longer than 3 days
  • Poor sleep
  • Pus or blood draining from your ear
  • Hearing loss
  • A fever
  • Chills
  • New symptoms appearing
  • Symptoms worsening

If anything seems out of the ordinary compared to other ear infections you or your child have had in the past, reach out to a healthcare provider immediately. A medical professional will be able to look at the eardrum with a microscope. Depending on your condition, they might prescribe an antibiotic that should help you or your child feel better in a couple of days.

A Word from Verywell

When it comes to preventing ear infections, be as proactive as possible. Wash your hands, get the recommended vaccinations, and limit exposure to people who are ill. When you or your child do experience an ear infection, there are some things you can do to mitigate the pain. But remember that home remedies are not always the best choice. Contact a healthcare provider if you suspect an ear infection, especially if the pain is severe, long-lasting, or moves into excessive discharge.

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9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Ear infections. Updated September 24, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic use and prescribing: ear infection. Updated July 1, 2021.

  3. Mayo Clinic. Ear infection (Middle ear) - Symptoms and causes.

  4. van Uum RT, Venekamp RP, Schilder AGM, Damoiseaux RAMJ, Anthierens S. Pain management in acute otitis media: a qualitative study of parents’ views and expectations. BMC Fam Pract. 2019;20:18. doi:10.1186/s12875-019-0908-9

  5. van Uum RT, Venekamp RP, Schilder AGM, Damoiseaux RAMJ, Anthierens S. Pain management in acute otitis media: a qualitative study of parents’ views and expectationsBMC Fam Pract. 2019;20:18.  doi:10.1186/s12875-019-0908-9

  6. Yagnik D, Serafin V, J. Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expressionSci Rep. 2018;8:1732. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x

  7. Mashhadi NS, Ghiasvand R, Askari G, Hariri M, Darvishi L, Mofid MR. Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidenceInt J Prev Med. 2013;4(Suppl 1):S36-S42. PMID:23717767

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ice packs vs. warm compresses for pain.

  9. National Library of Medicine. Hydrogen peroxide.