Ear Infections, Alternative Treatments

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

Ear infections can be viral or bacterial. It seems logical to assume that the majority of them–like all kids’ infections–are viral and therefore completely non-responsive to antibiotics. The medical literature is just loaded with controversy about ear infections and that controversy includes the basic idea that ear infections may not need antibiotics at all!

I think that many infections, including otitis media (middle ear infections) respond faster or better to antibiotic treatment but I also think that the negative impact of those medicines is underestimated by doctors and patients alike. Everything from yeast overgrowth in the intestines, oral thrush, vaginal or diaper area yeast infections to diarrhea result from antibiotics. Additionally, some people have allergic reactions to these medicines. Perhaps the most underestimated problem is the breeding of bacteria which are resistant to the very drugs we count on to kill them.

For all of these reasons, it’s a great idea to save antibiotics for the times when infections threaten health and safety and/or when other therapy modalities have been exhausted.

I treat ear infections with prevention (anti-allergy measures such as dairy avoidance, dust reduction and getting rid of feather pillows and quilts) and with herbal and homeopathic remedies. I have some formal training in these methods but nowhere near enough to call myself an authority. I have been trained by my patients’ actions and by years of experience watching the way children respond to gentler methods of healing otitis media and other infections.

I like to put mullein/garlic oil in the ears hourly for a day or two and give pulsatilla 6X or 12C (homeopathic strength–the range I have given indicates homeopathic ignorance… but it works) or lachesis homeopathically hourly for two days.

Elderberry is an herbal preparation which interferes with viral growth and I use the extract for younger children and the lozenges (hourly again… tough day for moms) for the toddlers and older kids. The doses can be calculated from the bottle you buy.

I also give extra vitamin C (500 mg/year of age/day to a maximum of 5000 for ten year olds to adults) and 5-15 mg of zinc/day to help immune function.

Echinacea is another good herb for stimulating immune function and I use it for any child without bad allergies or other autoimmune problems.

Dairy avoidance is crucial to treat or prevent ear infections and many people like to replace the lost calcium either with fortified drinks (soy, rice, orange juice) or with supplemental calcium.

Pain control can be done either herbally or with Tylenol-type meds. Hot compresses on the ear will increase blood flow and speed up healing.


  1. Jen

    Are your ear infection remidies safe for a 16mo. We are going on almost our 3rd month of ear infections. They have gotten bad enough that it's moved into her sinuses and eyes. Can this really happen? Is it the same type of ear infection that would be solved with natural remidies and dairy elimination? My second question is how do I make sure my 16mo is getting enough calcium/protein if I eliminate dairy. Dairy seems to be everywhere!

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      The upper respiratory system is all interconnected, so yes an ear infection can be in the fluid that also travels to the sinuses and eyes. The alternatives outlined in Dr. Jay's article can be used with toddlers. Elderberry and echinacea are easy to find in liquid forms that are designed for children. My own children often recover very quickly with the immune system boost from these two alone. The garlic in the mullein oil is a natural antibiotic and the oil is very soothing to the ear. If you are uncomfortable with frequent treatment with the oil, you may find that even a drop in the morning and another in the evening give significant relief.

      Is your 16 mo. old still nursing? Much of the protein and calcium needs are met with nursing, even with 2 or 3 nursings a day: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-benefit

      The dairy elimination is key in kids that have recurring Upper Respiratory Infections! Make sure you have eliminated all sources.

      There are many wonderful sources of protein and calcium:
      http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.htm

      Hope that helps.

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