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Natural Remedies for Common Ear Problems

Ear infections, technically known as otitis media, middle ear infections are usually secondary to respiratory infections, allergies, or colds.

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1. Ear infections

Technically known as otitis media, middle ear infections are usually secondary to respiratory infections, allergies, or colds; the lining of the upper-respiratory tract swells and blocks the Eustachian tube, leading to fluid buildup and infection. Kids get them more often simply because their Eustachian tubes are smaller and not angled downward, making them more susceptible to fluid buildup.

Left untreated, ear infections can lead to long-term issues, including permanent hearing loss. And while antibiotics were once routinely prescribed, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now states that antibiotics should not be used unless there is an obvious infection; even then, the AAP recommends using prudence if ear pain is mild and no fever is present.

In the meantime, natural treatments can help. Eardrops that contain garlic and mullein can help fight bacteria and viruses, while soothing swelling and pain. Homeopathic ear remedies that contain Calcarea carbonica, Pulsatilla, Sulphur, and Lycopodium are especially safe and gentle for young children. And gently massaging the area around and under the ear in a downward motion can encourage drainage. Try using lavender, tea tree, or chamomile essential oils diluted with sweet almond oil for kids. For adults, basil, rosemary, and frankincense oils can be used.

2. Earwax buildup

Earwax, or cerumen, is produced by the skin lining the ear canal. It protects the ears from dust and bacteria, and lubricates the ear canal to prevent itching and irritation. Excess earwax generally comes out naturally on its own. But sometimes, earwax can build up in the ear canal, leading to pain, itching, a sense of ears being plugged up, and, over time, hearing loss.

Never use cotton swabs in the ears; you’ll just push wax deeper into the ear canal. Try a gentle eardrop solution that contains glycerin. A few drops of hydrogen peroxide in the ears once or twice a week can also soften wax and allow it to come out on its own. Some people use candling, an ancient practice in which a tapered tube is placed in the ear while the other end is lit, creating a vacuum and sucking out ear wax. It’s controversial, but some folks swear by it.

3. Tinnitus

Tinnitus is characterized by persistent ringing, buzzing, roaring, or other noise in the ears. It affects about 1 in 5 people, and is usually related to exposure to loud noises, ear injury, age-related hearing loss, or earwax buildup. It may also be caused by high doses of aspirin or other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Though tinnitus is not inherently dangerous, it’s annoying, and can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as head or neck tumors, or Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that includes vertigo and hearing loss.

While there’s no cure, studies show Pycnogenol, an antioxidant extracted from French maritime pine tree bark, can dramatically improve symptoms of tinnitus and Meniere’s, including dizziness, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, inner-ear pressure, and unsteady balance. In one study, nearly 90 percent of people who took Pycnogenol were free of all inner-ear-related symptoms within six months. Because Pycnogenol also improves microcirculation
and is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it may also prevent the onset of tinnitus.

Drops can also help. Look for herb-based formulas such as gentian root, bitter orange, and dandelion, that help relieve ringing in the ears by soothing nerve endings and improving circulation.

4. Hearing loss

Hearing loss affects 48 million Americans, and 15 percent of people over age 18 report trouble hearing. Age-related hearing loss is the most common type; as we age, blood flow to the nerve endings that make hearing possible decreases, and the body produces more free radicals that can damage hearing. Hearing loss may also be caused by loud noises, head injuries, drug use, illnesses that damage the inner ear, or abnormal growth of tumors. But some supplements can support auditory function and help maintain hearing for years to come:

  • Ginkgo biloba, also used to treat circulatory disorders and memory loss, is effective at protecting against hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant, may help prevent or even reverse age-related hearing loss. When combined with acetyl-l-carnitine, the effects are even more pronounced.
  • Vinpocetine, a compound shown to improve blood flow to the brain, may also protect the ears.
  • B vitamins: folate reduces levels of homocysteine, a compound that’s linked to increased risk of hearing loss; vitamin B12 may protect against noise-induced hearing loss.
  • CoQ10 can reduce hearing loss from noise and alleviate tinnitus.

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