Home Remedies for Ear Infections


7. Reference

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About this Site
The purpose of this website is to discuss in details useful home remedies for ear infections. There is a lot of information about the subject on the internet, and deciphering what is medically sound and safe is not always easy.

This page presents 6 sections.
In the first one, we review the anatomy of the ear.
In the second, we discuss common causes of ear infections.
In the third we review the typical symptoms of ear infections.
The fourth and fifth sections cover which home remedies for ear infections may work and which may not.

The last section includes the medical references.
This site is open to comments so that you can share your experience with your home remedies for ear infections.

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Anatomy of the Ear
The ear is composed of 3 big parts, the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear as seen on the picture below. Each part of the ear can be subject to infections. Usually home remedies are used for ear infections affecting the outer and middle parts, but there are also some useful tips if the inner ear is affected.

Anatomy for Home remedies Ear Infections
The outer ear goes from the auricle to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).

The middle ear spans the space from the eardrum to the cochlea (in orange). The Eustachian tube (in green) starts in the back of the nose (nasopharynx) and opens in the middle ear. It acts as a conduit of air between the nose and the ear. It allows pressure equalization of the ear to make sure the middle ear keeps working well. The middle ear allows mechanical sound transmission to the cochlea with the help of 3 small bones (the ossicles).
 
The inner ear (in orange) comprises the cochlea that allows hearing and the balance organ (vestibular system). The cochlea converts the mechanical sound wave into a neural electrical signal sent to the brain.

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Causes of Ear Infections
As explained above, all 3 parts of the ear can be subject to infections. Knowing the major causes of ear infections help us understand how and why some home remedies for ear infections work and why there are some home remedies that should be avoided.

1) Causes of Infections of the Outer Ear
Infections of the outer ear can occur when there is a small breakdown of the skin, which allows bacteria to go in the soft tissues. This skin breakdown can occur with the use of Q-tips or by scratching.

Wax accumulation in the ear can trap bacteria and cause inflammation of the outer ear skin.

Another common reason for infections of the outer ear is swimming in dirty water and not drying the ear correctly. This is called swimmers ear.

Outer ear infections can also occur when there is an infection of the middle ear with a perforation of the eardrum so that pus flows outwards. This infected liquid can irritate the skin and produces severe inflammation.

People who are immunosuppressed are more at risk of developing a severe outer ear infection. Common reasons for immunosuppression include poorly controlled diabetes and the use of immunosuppressant medications.

There are home remedies for ear infections that my work for most of these causes mainly by preventing inflammation of the skin and preventing a profound immunosuppression status.

2) Causes of Infections of the Middle Ear

Middle ear infections (otitis media) result from the accumulation of infected liquid behind the eardrum. The Eustachian tube plays a very important role by allowing air to go in the middle ear from the nasopharynx. It equalizes the pressure of the middle ear and allows the eardrum to assume a normal position and normal function.

When there is problems with the function of the Eustachian tube, negative pressure builds up in the middle ear. It leads to a build up of fluid in the middle that may get infected. This can happen if the opening of the Eustachian tube in the back of the nose is swollen or blocked.

If the Eustachian tube doesn't function well, the eardrum can retract inwards, which may lead to a pocket of skin debris in the middle ear that becomes chronically infected (cholesteatoma). Surgery may be required for such a problem.

Children more frequently develop middle ear infections because the Eustachian tube is shorter and more horizontal so that bacteria from the back of the nose can tract to the middle ear. Also, the presence of  large adenoids in the nasopharynx can obstruct the opening of the Eustachian tube.

Home remedies for ear infections can be effective when the middle ear is the cause by helping the Eustachian tube do its job . This is done mainly by having better nasal hygiene.


3) Causes of Infections of the Inner Ear
Inner ear infections are referred to by the term labyrhintitis. They occur when infected fluid goes from the middle ear into the cochlea.

Inner ear infections can also result from meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain).

Home remedies for ear infections can prevent middle ear infections thereby preventing inner ear infections. They can also help get over some of the symptoms of inner ear infections.  

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Symptoms of Ear Infections

Common symptoms of outer ear infections include:
- Ear pain that increases when the ear is touched
- Red and inflamed outer ear
- Drainage from the ear
- Decreased hearing
- Sensation of ear fullness

Common symptoms of middle ear infections include:
- Ear pain, but it is not increased with ear manipulation
- May or may not have drainage ( if the eardrum has a perforation)
- Decreased hearing
- Ear fullness

Common symptoms of inner ear infections include:
- Severe hearing loss
- Dizziness and vertigo (if balance organ is involved)

With any of these infections, children may present with vague symptoms like:
- Irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Poor response to sounds
- Nausea and vomiting
- High fevers
- Ear touching/tugging

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Home Remedies for Ear Infections that May Work

DISCLAIMER:
It is important to consult a physician if an infection is suspected. He is the best positioned to make an accurate diagnosis and determine an effective treatment plan. The information presented below is for educational purposes only and you should confirmed its accuracy with your physician. 

1) Home Remedies for Outer Ear Infection
- Avoid using Q-tips or scratching your ear
- Avoid swimming in dirty water
- Take a cotton ball and roll it with some Vaseline. Use it to plug the ear when you go swimming if you go in dirty water or if you are prone to ear infections
- Alternatively, use commercial ear plugs
- You can use a hairdryer on low setting to dry your ear
- If you are prone to wax accumulation, you can use mineral oil or unscented baby oil several times a week to make the wax   softer and allow the ear to get rid of it. It also makes it easier for your physician to clean your ear. It seems to be safe even if there is a suspected eardrum perforation (1)
- Keep your diabetes well-controlled to avoid being in an immunosuppressed state

2) Home Remedies for Middle Ear Infection
- Keep a good nasal hygiene: use over the counter nasal saline rinses
- Teach your kids early on how to blow their nose
- Use decongestants before going on a plane to help the Eustachian tube open more easily and to avoid the sensation of pressure in the ear
- Keep the ear dry if you had recent ear surgery (with cotton ball + Vaseline)
- Try to pop your ear frequently by hold your nose and blowing. This will push air into the middle ear
- Keep the head of the bed elevated for your children. It may reduce gastric reflux and prevent irritation of the opening of the Eustachian tube.

3)
Home Remedies for Inner Ear Infection
If you had an inner ear infection that led to loss of function of your balance organ, you may have dizziness that lasts several weeks. To help the dizziness go away, train your brain to work with only one normal balance organ. This is done through vestibular rehabilitation exercises. An easy exercise is reading some text while moving your head from side to side.

If you have other suggestions for home remedies of ear infections please feel free to post them in the comments page.

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Home Remedies for Ear Infections to Avoid

There are some home remedies for ear infections that are often recommended but that should be avoided because they may lead to more damage to the ear

Avoid using hydrogen peroxide if you have a perforation of the ear drum as it may go in the middle ear and damage the cochlea. (2)
Avoid syringing your ear to irrigate the wax out because it may damage the ear drum and break the small bones of the middle ear. There was even cases reported of damage to the facial nerve and facial nerve paralysis (3)
Avoid using ear candles as they simply don't work. They may even cause damage if hot candle wax drips into the ear. (4, 5)

If you know of other home remedies for ear infections that should be avoided please post in the comment sections. This may really help other readers.

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Reference

1) Al-Jarallah A et al. Ototoxicity of baby oil in a chinchilla animal model. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2012 Apr;76(4):564-8.
2) Perez R, The effect of hydrogen peroxide applied to the middle ear on inner ear function. Laryngoscope. 2003 Nov;113(11):2042-6.
3) Thomas AM Facial nerve palsy as a complication of ear syringing. J Laryngol Otol. 2012 Jul;126(7):714-6.
4)  Hornibrook J. Where there's smoke there's fire--ear candling in a 4-year-old girl.
N Z Med J. 2012 Dec 14;125(1367):138-40.
5) Ernst E. J Laryngol Otol. 2004 Jan;118(1):1-2. Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science.


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