Put an End to Earaches

Antibiotics are not the answer to healing persistent ear infections.
By Nicole Duncan

Here’s the $64,000 question: Why do children’s ear infections keep coming back despite multiple courses of antibiotics? Because they’re mostly caused by viruses, not bacteria. Antibiotics don’t treat the cause of the problem—the virus. They just provide temporary relief of the symptoms, says Sandy Newmark, an integrative pediatrician in Tucson, Arizona. Fortunately, recent research is changing the way doctors treat ear infections—studies show that 58 percent of ear tube surgeries are unnecessary, and 90 percent of ear infections clear up without antibiotics. “The trick is to boost immunity and use natural remedies to drain fluid before it solidifies and a doctor has to punch a hole in the eardrum,” says Steve Cowan, a holistic pediatrician and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Try these safe and effective alternatives next time your child starts tugging at her ear and complaining of an ache.

Garlic-mullein ear drops.
Several Israeli studies show these naturopathic drops are just as effective as conventional ones. A blend of garlic, mullein, and St. John’s wort in an olive-oil base launches an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial attack against ear infections. “Mullein is a natural decongestant,” says Cowan. “While the oil seeps through the eardrum membrane and breaks up mucus buildup, garlic’s natural antibacterial qualities help reduce pain.” Try Herbs Etc.’s Ear Drops ($12.98, 1 oz; herbsetc.com).

A potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenger, glutathione nasal spray proved 65 percent effective in relieving chronic fluid in the ears in studies conducted by the Second University School of Medicine in Naples, Italy. Benjamin Asher, an integrative ear, nose, and throat specialist in New York City, recommends 600 mg daily for two weeks to break up the glue-like mucus buildup.

Enhance the immune system with echinacea to boost resistance to viruses. This purple coneflower extract increases your body’s production of white blood cells, which defend the body against infection. Take 100 to 150 mg of the herb three times daily.

Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in a child’s intestines, which upsets her digestive system. Lawrence Rosen, an integrative pediatrician in Oradell, New Jersey,
recommends trying Ultra Bifidus made by Metagenics ($29.95, 75 grams; metagenics.com); or Culturelle for Kids ($7.99, 10 capsules; culturelle.com) to strengthen the gut. Also try Natren’s Life Start for infants ($16.95, 1.25 oz; natren.com).