Otitis media, or ear infection, is one of the most common childhood illnesses, but it less frequently affects adults. It can be a painful experience -- and for parents, a stressful one. The good news is there are therapies to treat infections and decrease pain and discomfort. When a child or adult is diagnosed with an ear infection, either antibiotic therapy or a watchful waiting period with close follow-up will be recommended. In addition, oral medications, home remedies, prescription ear drops, and homeopathic or naturopathic ear drops can be used to manage ear pain or fever. .
Because many ear infections go away on their own, particularly if caused by a virus, doctors are prescribing antibiotics less often for treatment. In cases of ear infections with severe pain and fever, antibiotic therapy is often advised. However, according to the 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, if a child 6 months or older is diagnosed with nonsevere acute otitis media, either antibiotic therapy or watchful waiting -- a period of observation with close follow-up –- is recommended. This decision is made jointly between the child's pediatrician and the parent or caregiver. Watchful waiting entails home observation, and if there is no improvement within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of ear symptoms, or if symptoms worsen, antibiotic therapy will be prescribed.
Medicines and Home Remedies
Pain is the major symptom of an ear infection. But according to a March 2013 report in "Pediatrics," antibiotics do not provide effective pain relief within the first 24 hours. On the other hand, oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can effectively treat ear pain on the first day and will also treat fever, another common symptom of an ear infection. A study of 171 children with ear infections, published in the May 2003 issue of "Pediatrics," demonstrated that naturopathic herbal ear drops provided beneficial pain relief. The study also concluded that no matter the treatment, in most children, ear pain resolved in 2 to 3 days. In addition, home remedies sometimes used to treat ear pain include applying heat or cold packs to the ear or providing comfort, distraction and massage
Other remedies to treat earache include medically prescribed anesthetic ear drops to numb the pain, or Otikon, a naturopathic ear drop. Otikon is an olive oil-based drop containing extracts of garlic, St. John’s wort, calendula or pot marigold, and mullein, a flowering plant. A study published in the July 2001 issue of "Pediatrics" compared Otikon with traditional anesthetic ear drops and found both to be equally effective in relieving ear pain. Another remedy is homeopathic ear drops, which are prepared by a homeopathic practitioner based on a child's individual symptoms. Commercial homeopathic ear drops are also available over the counter, such as Hyland's Earache Drops. While these over-the-counter ear drops are meant to soothe ear pain, there is only limited evidence to demonstrate effectiveness.
Warnings and Precautions
While antibiotics carry risks, including the potential for developing resistance to bacteria, experiencing an allergic reaction or having an adverse side effect like diarrhea, they are sometimes warranted. For example, antibiotic therapy is needed if your child's ear infection is severe, and untreated ear infections can lead to serious complications, including hearing loss. If you suspect you or your child are suffering from an ear infection, see a doctor. Symptoms of a severe infection include a fever of 102.2 F or greater, ear pain that is moderate or severe, or ear pain that has persisted for more than 48 hours.
- JAMA: Wait-and-See Prescription for the Treatment of Acute Otitis Media
- The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Antibiotics for Acute Otitis Media in Children
- Pediatrics: The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media
- Pediatrics: Naturopathic Treatment for Ear Pain in Children
- The Journal of Family Practice: Use Anesthetic Drops to Relieve Acute Otitis Media Pain
- Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine: Efficacy of Naturopathic Extracts in the Management of Ear Pain Associated With Acute Otitis Media
- The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Topical Analgesia for Acute Otits Media