Childhood ear infections are common. Chances are that if you’re a parent, you’ve had to deal with them at some point, and if you haven’t, you probably will.

Otitis media (the posh term) can be nothing more than a mild ache, but often it can develop into an excruciating pain or even a burst ear drum. Early signs of infection include irritability and restlessness, but you may not spot anything until he/she complains of earache or perhaps develops a fever. Babies will often raise their hand to their ear as they cry. Attacks are routed in either bacterial or viral infection which causes inflammation, and may be triggered by exposure to the wind or water (swimming/bathing), or if the child’s lymph glands are already swollen and causing constriction to the local area.

So what do you need to know?

First off, if you take your kid to see your GP or any other healthcare professional who wants to examine their ears, make sure they clean the flippin’ otoscope (the tool they use to look inside ears)!! One shocking study demonstrated that 86% of the otoscopes (also known as aurioscopes) sampled were covered in micro-organisms such as Staphylococci (64%) and in rarer cases, MRSA (9%). So before your child is examined, request that the otoscope head being used is disinfected. You can also ask for the good ear to be examined first, that way the risk of cross-infection from the bad ear to the good ear will be limited.

Do they need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are only effective when treating ear infections caused by bacteria, so they won’t help if your child’s infection is caused by a virus. One study examined 79 children and found that in 92% of cases, bacteria was present, and in 70% viruses were found. Both bacteria and viruses were found in 66% of cases. Medical practitioners have expressed concern about the overuse of antibiotics in the treatment of ear infections, particularly as children are more prone to negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and developing a skin rash. It is also worth considering that every time antibiotics are used to treat a non-serious infection, it increases the likelihood of developing resistance to antibiotics, which can mean more threatening infections could become untreatable.

Watchful waiting:

The British Medical Journal reported that contrary to popular belief, 80% of infections will clear up in 2-3 days without antibiotics, though as a concerned parent, you may find this hard!

Is there anything that you CAN do to help?

Gently massaging along the San Jiao meridian, which runs up the outer edge of the arm, before looping its way around the ear, can help during an acute attack. To do so, first calm yourself. If you’re anxious and concerned about your child (let’s face it, it’s reasonable that you would be), they will probably pick up on it which may exacerbate things. So, take a moment and do some calm relaxed breathing, meditate, or visualise the positive energy you’re going to use to help your child. When you feel relaxed, gently hold their forearm in yours and using your thumb, massage down the channel, from the tip of the elbow to the back of their hand. The channel lies in the centre of the forearm, between the two long bones, so is pretty easy to find. Repeat this downward massage 30-50 times. This is a lovely way for parents to help their children as they benefit from such loving care. Don’t we all?

Essential oils of Lavender or Chamomile can be helpful; put 2-3 drops on a teaspoon of warm olive oil and gently pour into the ear (1 drop for babies).

Niu Huang Jie Du Pien is a patent herbal remedy which can be used during an acute attack, and often acts quickly to reduce pain.

Acupuncture treatment can be swift and effective, and its holistic framework allows time to explore the reasons why it’s become a problem in a first place. Don’t worry, only a few points are used (mainly nowhere near the ear), and the needles only go in for a moment.

If your child is cold and pale, a small slither of garlic can be inserted into the ear and held in place with a small piece of cotton wool, but only needs to be left in for an hour or two.

So that’s the basics, if you have experience of other remedies, I’d love to hear about them!