Middle-ear infection is one of the most common and troublesome childhood health problems. It is often a baby’s first significant illness, but it is not always easy to spot until the child becomes irritable from the pain, develops a high fever or begins tugging at her ear. Chronic infections and the fear of hearing impairment can lead to a near-endless stream of visits to the doctor. Ear pain results in about one-third of all pediatrician visits for children under six years old.
The eustachian tubes, which run from the ears to the throat, maintain air pressure in and drain fluids from the middle ear, but also provide an easy route for throat infections to travel to the ears. Because these tubes are so small in a child, swelling from infection or allergy inhibits drainage and compounds the problem. To treat this condition, pediatricians generally prescribe antibiotics. Eventually, if chronic ear infections persist, a doctor will insert small drainage tubes into the child’s ear.
mulleintitleThere is, however, a more natural solution that I have seen work dozens of times, often with children already scheduled to have the tubes inserted. An oil of mullein flower and garlic dropped into the ear will reduce inflammation, stop the pain and kill bacterial infections, such as “swimmer’s ear,” that usually occur in the outer ear. Fungal infections are generally less serious than bacterial infections, but they do cause lots of itching. {Some commercially available ear oils also include Saint John’s wort and calendula to decrease inflammation.}
mullein-flowers-infusing-in-oilYears ago a naturopath asked me if I knew where to get mullein oil. Her daughter’s ear was so hot and swollen that she could not hear, and  she had already tried all the other natural remedies that were available. This was before anyone sold herbal ear drops. Fortunately, I lived near a wild mullein patch and had just made some oil. During the next two days, we watched as the oil dramatically reduced the redness and swelling of her daughter’s ear. After a few days, a sprouted bean, the cause of all the trouble, popped out of her ear. We continued to administer the mullein oil for a few days, until all signs of infection had disappeared.
Herbal ear drops are sold in natural food stores. Or if you can properly identify mullein, you can make your own. Glycerin is included for a few reasons; It is the only natural product I know that cuts earwax buildup {a problem often compounded by infection}; it helps to keep the drops in the ear {because it is slightly sticky}; and it is an excellent preservative.

Mullein and Garlic Ear Drops

1 ounce Homemade Mullein Oil {see below}
1 ounce Garlic Vinegar {see below}
1 teaspoon glycerin

Combine ingredients and stir well. After making sure that the ear drops are warm enough not to cause any discomfort, place 2 drops in each ear. Then, gently rub around the outside of the ear to work the drops in.

Homemade Mullein Oil

Fresh mullein flowers
Olive oil to cover

To make your own mullein oil, you will need a source of fresh flowers to pick. {Either grown yourself or be sure to properly identify any herb you pick yourself. Fortunately, once you are familiar with it, mullein’s tall taper of yellow flowers is easy to spot.} Place – but do not pack – flowers in a clean glass jar. Cover with just enough olive oil to submerge all the flowers. Stir the flowers to release any air bubbles. Place in a warm location, such as the top of a refrigerator or in the sun, for about 3 days. Then, pour it through a fine strainer. Put 2 drops in each ear a few times daily during an infection, or once a day as a preventive measure. Stored in a cool place, this oil should last for 2 years.

Even if only one ear seems to be infected, treat both of them – these herbs will also help to protect the well ear from the infection. Be careful not to touch the dropper to the infected ear first because this can lead to the infection being transferred. If your child has recurring infections, herbal remedies can help diminish their frequency and severity, but to cure them you must find and solve the source of the problem. Food allergies may be a cause, so you may want to ask your doctor about testing.
Ear drops are not appropriate for serious ear problems – for instance, if the eardrum is perforated or something is lodged inside the ear. Although my friend used ear drops for her daughter’s lodged bean, remember that she was a qualified professional; if you have reason to believe that your child’s earache is due to a perforated eardrum, a lodged object or a fever, consult a pediatrician immediately.

In case of minor irritation, place a compress or poultice over the ear or rub an antiseptic massage oil around the outside of the ear.

Antiseptic Ear Rub

1/4 teaspoon each lavender and tea tree essential oils
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the oils and store the mixture in a clean glass bottle. Lay the child down comfortably on her side and rub the oil around the outside of her ear. Use this treatment a few times daily during an infection.

Onion Ear Poultice

1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup water

Heat ingredients in a pan and bring to a simmer, then turn off heat. Wrap simmered onion in several layers of cheesecloth and apply this poultice over the ear, leaving it there for at least 5 minutes. The onion can be reheated and reapplied several times. Do this as many times as needed to ease the pain. This old-fashioned technique is a little messy, but useful when it is the only remedy on hand.

If your child’s ear begins to hurt after she has been swimming or bathing, there may be water trapped in the ear – and this condition can be just as painful as an ear infection. To evaporate the water and ease the inflammation and resulting pain, place a drop or two of an anti-inflammatory tincture, such as mullein flower, Saint Johns wort or chamomile, in the ear. The alcohol in the tincture will dry up the excess water in the ear, and the herb will reduce the swelling and the pain.

Garlic Vinegar

4 garlic heads, divided into individual cloves
1 pint apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or glycerin {optional}

Using a blender, blend the unpeeled garlic cloves and vinegar thoroughly. Transfer the mixture to a covered container and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 weeks. Strain and discard the garlic. If you wish to sweeten the vinegar, add honey, glycerin or the sweetener of your choice. {Remember that honey should not be given to children under 2 years old.} Stored in a cool dry place, it will keep for many years.

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