An ear infection is a painful inflammation of the inner ear that causes a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. The most common treatment for an ear infection is a round of antibiotics that destroy the bacteria causing the infection. If you do not want to take medication, alternative treatments such as salt water might ease your pain and bring relief. Use salt water only after speaking with your doctor first.
An ear infection often results from a cold or flu and affects the inner ear. When the eustachian tubes become inflamed and swollen, they cause a blockage, so fluid accumulates in the ear. Bacterial contamination of the fluid may result in an ear infection. If your adenoids, located near the back of your throat, are inflamed, they also can cause ear pain and infection. Another type of ear infection is called swimmer's ear and occurs when you get water too far into your ear canal. The water remains in your ear canal, so bacteria are more likely to grow, causing an infection. Salt water is potentially most effective for this type of ear infection.
Symptoms typically occur quickly after the ear becomes infected. In children, the symptoms include ear pain, tugging at the ears, difficulty sleeping, crying, irritability, loss of balance, headache, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Adults experience ear pain, ear drainage, difficulty hearing and sore throat. If the pain is severe or lasts for longer than a day, get in touch with your doctor for treatment.
Salt water helps to treat an ear infection because the salt helps reduce inflammation in your nasal passages, in turn reducing pain and other symptoms in your inner ear. Do not put salt water in your ear, however; spray it in your nostrils to help ease congestion and eliminate the built-up fluid that is causing the ear infection. Some doctors and alternative health practitioners suggest placing saline drops in the ear canal, but do not do so without the approval of your doctor. This is particularly important if you have a ruptured eardrum.
To make your own salt water drops, dissolve 1/2 tsp. of salt in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Squeeze the mixture into an eye dropper or nose sprayer and place one or two drops in each nostril. Wait one to two minutes and very gently blow or suction your nose. Vigorous nose blowing can cause additional ear pain. As your nose drains and you remove fluid from your nasal passages, your ear infection symptoms should begin to improve.