Can I begin to treat my ear infection?
August 29, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

What (if any) household items are there that can help in the early stage of an outer ear infection (not just the pain, but the infection itself)?

I've heard of people using olive oil to soothe the pain. I've even heard more than one anecdote about people dripping Listerine into the ear canal to help with the pain. But is there anything that can actually help with the infection itself?

Mouth wash, skin toner, rubbing alcohol, Neosporin... could any of these help safely curb the worsening of an infection?

I know getting antibiotics/ear drops prescribed by a doctor is by far the #1 best route. But in a middle-of-the-night, painful, non-ER pinch, is there anything in my medicine cabinet that can help with what feels like a quickly worsening outer ear infection?
posted by desertface to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hydrogen peroxide.

Lie on your side and have someone pour it into your ear. It'll sound like a volcano, and slowly settle into a gentle tickle.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:40 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hot water bottle. The heat will soothe the pain and increase blood flow to help fight infection.
posted by Specklet at 2:41 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make a solution of half vinegar, half rubbing alcohol. Put a few drops into the affected ear a few times a day. We've used this several times to clear up swimmer's ear.
posted by apparently at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

My pediatrician was always "this close" to putting tubes in my ears when I was a kid - I got probably eight or nine infections a year till I was in my teens. Hydrogen peroxide, if we caught it fast enough, seemed to help it resolve on its own. I do not recommend gargling with salt water, on the other hand. Blergh.
posted by SMPA at 3:17 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thirding Hydrogen Peroxide... I was recently without medical insurance and like SMPA had a TON of ear infections when I was a kid, so I definitely knew what it was that was coming on. I polled everyone I knew who I thought would know of at-home remedies, and settled on a saturating a Q-tip in hydrogen peroxide, and gently rubbing the ear canal, without (of course) jamming it into my ear. I guess directly pouring it in may also work without the possible complications of Q-tip related injuries. That said, it worked, and within 2 days it was gone. But again, like SMPA mentioned, I think you have to catch it early to use this route.
posted by Debaser626 at 3:44 PM on August 29, 2011

Warm garlic-infused oil. Seriously.
posted by bricoleur at 3:56 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

These are often fungal infections, for which something highly acidic like vinegar usually works. After swimming, I often dump the alcohol/vinegar mix into my especially susceptible ear, and now seldom get ear infections.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2011

Seconding the 50/50 alcohol and vinegar. That is what was recommended to me by my ear doctor both before and after my last ear surgery. My only warning is that it is really unpleasant.
posted by Sucht at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2011

Juice from a ginger root may work. I tried this recently on a child and it did seem to help. I grated the ginger very finely then put it through a sieve.
posted by mareli at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2011

Many people claim that breastmilk (introduced into the ear with an eyedropper, not directly from the breast) applied 4-6 times per day can clear an ear infection in an infant.
posted by anastasiav at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2011

Also, I should add, that for kids with an otherwise uncomplicated "AOM", watchful waiting and pain management are the current thing. Apparently about 80% of infections will clear on their own, without antibiotics.
posted by anastasiav at 5:32 PM on August 29, 2011

oregano oil blended 25% with olive oil is absolute bomb for infections.
posted by hortense at 5:34 PM on August 29, 2011

Seconding warm garlic oil. Your local health food store might sell something like this...the one I have is called Mullein Garlic Compund Oil.
posted by hellochula at 5:50 PM on August 29, 2011

Agreeing with the alcohol-vinegar mixture.

I have eczema of the ear canal, and the irritated, weeping skin makes me extremely susceptible to swimmer's ear, and I keep it under control with a 50-50 alcohol/vinegar mixture (daily when my ears are acting up, 3 times a week otherwise) and an antifungal cream I got from the ENT.

And, yeah, if your ears are already irritated, it stings like the bejeebers. But it's worth it to head off a full-blown infection.

Caution: My ENT suggested that the hydrogen peroxide I tried before seeing him might have thrown off the pH in my ear canal and exacerbated the infection. It may be helpful for loosening impacted earwax, but it's not so great for infections, apparently.
posted by BrashTech at 6:15 PM on August 29, 2011

posted by jitterbug perfume at 7:29 PM on August 29, 2011

Be careful not to confuse otitis media ("AOM"), a middle ear infection, with otitis externa ("swimmer's ear"). The OP is asking about swimmer's ear - an "outer ear infection".
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:30 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

but I will add thank you for advertising the fact that otitis media doesn't always require antibiotics - this could be saving many people a trip to the ER - I wish more people knew this!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:31 PM on August 29, 2011

On scuba boats, the vinegar/alcohol mixture can sometimes stop or slow an infection, in my experience. It can sting, but in my experience, only a little. I use it religiously after diving in the tropics. Antibiotics seem to do a much better job though. Also, as others said, dehumidify -- I.e., blow dry the ear.

Also, ban qtips from your house if ear infections are in the offing - i.e., summer and swimming and tropical water. That ear wax is good protective stuff. [but that won't help you now I guess, sorry - as the past victim of a "will this EVER go away" ear infection, I sympathize. Go for the drugs, before you or your loved one feel like your head is being invaded by a parasite via ear canal, a la Wrath of Khan - swimmer's ear can be really really REALLY uncomfortable, don't mess around].
posted by bluesky78987 at 9:36 PM on August 29, 2011

Recommending children's formula ear drops from Oregon Wild Harvest (I don't think there is an adult version). I picked up my bottle at the grocery store, couldn't have paid more than $10 and it has lasted ages.
A few drops in your ear will have you smelling like your favorite Italian restaurant but you'll feel better by morning. Seriously, I swear by this stuff (for me or the kids). I got an account just to post this answer, that's how well it works.
posted by itwasyou at 11:10 PM on August 29, 2011

I agree with the vinegar/alcohol advice. This is not just a home remedy--the active ingredient in the most commonly prescribed drops for outer-ear infections is acetic acid (aka vinegar). The drops often have some hydrocortisone to reduce swelling, but vinegar is the primary anti-microbial.
posted by at 12:57 AM on August 30, 2011

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