Montana Public Radio

Healing Earaches: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Apr 17, 2017

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician.  I’m here today with health tips on a painful topic: earaches.

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Earaches hurt!  Don’t they?  If you have an earache, you’ll feel a throbbing pain in one or maybe both of your ears.  It’s a pressure-building-up sort of pain, like a balloon filled with too much air and just about to pop.  The pain might even go down the side of your neck or around your head.

Earaches usually start when you have a sore throat or a bad cold, or allergies or have recently been swimming in lake water.  Babies sometimes get earaches when they are growing new teeth.

What’s going on when you have an earache?  Well, the problem is inside your ear.  Instead of air, your ear is filled with a thick, gunky fluid.  It can’t drain down the ear tube (called the Eustachian tube) to the back of your throat the way it’s supposed to.  The fluid is stuck, and that hurts!

If you have a bad earache, your parents should take you to the doctor for an exam.  If you have an infection caused by bacteria, you will probably get a prescription for antibiotics.  If your earache is not caused by bacteria, the doctor will tell you to rest and take anti-inflammatory medicine if the pain gets too bad.

No matter what kind of earache you have, you and your parents can do a few of my tips right along with the medication so that you’ll get better faster.  Here they are:

Try ear tugs.  Your mom or dad gently tugs on your ears in three places - top, back and bottom.  They pull on each part of your ear about five times.  Then they rub the piece of cartilage in the front of the ear in a firm, gentle circle. Tugging helps move the fluid out of your ear and Eustachian tube and relieves some of your pain.

Putting heat on your ear and neck can be very soothing.  My favorite way to do this is an onion poultice.  Your mom or dad bakes a medium size onion in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then they cut the onion in half, wrap it in gauze, and let it cool down enough so you can put it on your neck, just under your ear.  You lay down, with the onion on your ear and neck for 10 or 15 minutes.  Breathing in the onion vapors will also help in getting rid of the thick gunky fluid that’s causing your ear pain.

If you don’t like the smell of onion, or don’t have onions around to bake, you can just use a hot water bottle or any sort of warm compress.

Ear drops made from garlic oil can also help with an earache.  Garlic oil helps fight infection and like onion vapors, can thin mucus and help your ear drain.  Your parents can put just one drop of garlic ear oil in each of your ears several times a day until you are better.

When you have an earache, don’t eat dairy products.  I know it’s sad, but eating milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream can lead to more thick fluid in your ears and make the problem worse. 

And you know what else? If you get lots of ear infections, you might even be allergic to dairy!  If you’re allergic, you’ll probably have to stop eating dairy if you want to stop being sick.

Keeping yourself hydrated with water or tea is always a good idea, especially when you are ill.  So keep the fluids coming into your stomach, and the fluid in your ears will eventually drain away.

To review: for earaches, try ear tugs, hot compresses or an onion poultice, garlic oil ear drops, avoid eating dairy, and drink lots of water or tea.  Remember, kids have to talk to their parents before trying any medicine, even natural medicine.

I hope these tips help your ears stay happy, healthy and hearing everything around you.  I’m Dr. Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.