Infection of the middle ear, otitis media, and infection of the outer ear, otitis externa, are two common conditions affecting the ears, particularly children's ears.
Secretory otitis media, also known as glue ear, is a condition where thick fluid accumulates in the middle ear. It often goes away of its own accord, however deafness can result if left untreated. Children who experience difficulty with the acquisition of language may in fact be suffering from undiagnosed otitis media. The medical procedure is called a myringotomy. A small hole is made in the eardrum and a grommet is inserted. Grommets are plastic tubes that allow the Eustachian tube (a tube that lets air into the middle ear and allows equal air pressure outside the ear and inside) to open and drain fluid internally. The procedure is uncomfortable and although it solves an immediate crisis, does not prevent glue ear from recurring.
Swimmer's ear or otitis externa is an infection that occurs in the outer part of the ear, and inside the ear canal. The ears are often itchy, and can be painful if the earlobe is pulled downwards. Sometimes there can be a rather smelly discharge. It is most often causedby a bacterial or fungal infection. The equivalent of 'jock itch' of the ear, or 'ear thrush'!
- Middle ear infections often occur after or during a cold or flu and are caused by germs travelling up the Eustachian tube connecting the nose and throat to the ear.
- Food allergies contribute to the occurrence of both inner and outer ear infections. Suspect milk, wheat, eggs, corn, oranges and peanuts (see Food Allergy).
- Babies are especially prone to middle ear infections. Lying in a cot drinking from a bottle may clog an infant's Eustachian tube.
- External irritants such as hair spray may initiate otitis externa.
What To Do
- Avoid milk and milk products as they encourage mucus.
- Drink lots of clear fluids.
- Avoid sugar.
- Eat plenty of garlic and onions for their antibiotic and mucus-thinning properties.
Herbs and Supplements
- (See Sniffle)
- Echinacea, calendula and golden seal are all antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. Take them in tablet or tincture form. These are not suitable for babies and very young children.
- Drink a herbal tisane containing Echinacea to help build the immune system to prevent infections.
- Fenugreek tea will increase the fluidity of the mucus, so it can drain. Drink one or two cups daily.
- Cod liver oil capsules are a good preventative: take 1-2 daily.
- Zinc and vitamin C will boost the immune system and help fight any infection.
- Garlic capsules or tablets in addition to dietary intake.
- The tissue salt Calc. phos. taken over a few months will prevent further infection.
- Warm a teaspoon of virgin olive oil to blood temperature. Add two drops of tea tree oil, then with a dropper fill the ear canal, stopping it with cotton wool. This is not to be done if there is any damage to the eardrum.
- Feed your baby before it lies down.
- Don't allow swimming during this time. At other times wear ear plugs.
- Use a vaporiser in the bedroom at night, with a few drops of eucalyptus or lavender oil in the water.
- Children who are breast-fed for at least the first six months are less prone to ear infections.
- Dry the ear meticulously, especially after showering or swimming. The best way to do this is with a hair dryer turned to low, held about 45 cm from the ear.
- Avoid cleaning your ears with cotton buds as this will tend to push the infection back inside the ear.
- To dry out the infection of otitis externa, put a drop or two of white vinegar and pure alcohol into the ear canal, twice daily.
- Hopi ear candles may help the chronic sufferer. Hopi ear candles originated with the Hopi Indian tribe of North America. Made from linen, honey extracts and herbs, they are inserted gently in the ear canal, then lit! A mild crackling is heard by the recipient as the candle burns, drawing excess wax, air and waste products from the ear. Hopi ear candles are available from some health food shops and from practitioners.
At a glance
- Good food
- Clear, hot fluids, onions and garlic.
- Food to avoid
- Sugar, milk products, potential allergens (such as peanuts, oranges and wheat).
- Remedies to begin
- Vitamin C, echinacea, olive oil with tea tree oil, garlic, fenugreek tea, Hopi ear candles.
- Avoid getting ears wet, avoid irritants, dry ears well after bathing.
- What have you heard that causes distress?