Ear Infection --- Causes and Top 10
Natural Remedies
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Last updated April 27, 2017 (originally published August 11, 2012)

By  Alison Turner, Featured Columnist

Most of us have had an ear ache before.  But a surprisingly
large number of people have suffered the ear ache’s more
developed older sibling, the ear infection (also known as
otitis).  The National Institute of Health reports that middle
ear infections, (also known as otitis media, referring to the
place just behind the eardrum) are “one of the most
common reasons parents take their children to the doctor.   

Researchers with the International Health Group in
Liverpool, UK, and the Sitaraum Bhartia Institute of Science
and Research in New Delhi, India, published findings in 2009
that estimate that 164 million people suffer from otitis media
around the world, and that 90% of these people are in low-
income countries.   What is an ear infection and why is it
such a common problem?

The world of ear infections can be divided into two general
categories: acute ear infection (a situations that is short and
painful), and chronic ear infection (a condition that does not
go away and may cause long-term or permanent damage to
the ear).  

While chronic ear infections can be serious enough to result
in inflammation around the brain, facial paralysis, or slow
development of language and speech, they are far less
common than acute ear infections.  Treatment for chronic
ear infections usually depends on diagnosis from a returning
acute infection, and may include long-term antibiotic
prescriptions or surgery.   Accordingly, this article focuses
on prevention and treatment of acute ear infection.

Certain ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss or
indicate serious health conditions,
such as cancer. For this
reason, you should always consult a doctor for any
persistent ear infection or ear ache.]

Causes of Ear Infection

How does ear infection happen?  The great majority of us
have something called an Eustachian tube, which runs from
the middle of the ear to the back of the throat, and drains
the ear’s normal fluid.  When this fluid becomes blocked by
allergies, colds, excessive saliva, infection, tobacco smoke, or
other factors, the Eustachian tube is clogged and may lead to

Ear infections are more common in infants and children than
in adults.  In infants, it may be difficult to diagnose at home
that an ear infection is to blame for his or her troubles:  
symptoms of ear infection in infants include irritability,
inconsolable crying, fever, or trouble sleeping.  For older
children and adults, symptoms of ear infection include pain in
the ear, vomiting, diarrhea, and hearing loss in the affected

Ear infections may go away on their own.  However, if your
infection does not show signs of healing, antibiotics and/or
surgery may be an option.  Read the list below for ten
recently-investigated causes of ear infection to decrease
your (or your child’s) chances of getting an ear infection in
the first place.

Top 10 Natural Remedies for Ear Infection

1.  Ear Infection and Asthma.  As if your child having asthma
wasn’t enough bad news, a recent study reports  an
association between asthma and ear infection. If you
struggle with one you might want to prepare for the other.

In 2010, researchers from the University of Illinois at
Chicago, the University of Southern California, and the
American Cancer Society in Massachusetts, including Kamal
Eldeirawi with the Department of Health Systems Science at
the first,  observed a connection between asthma and ear
infections in infants.  

The parents of more than 2,000 Mexican-American children
completed a questionnaire, the results of which revealed that
“children with a history of ear infections in infancy were
more likely to have asthma.”  The team concluded that there
is a “significant association” between asthma and ear
infections in infancy.

If your child has either asthma or an ear infection, be sure
that during treatment the other is considered as well. (Read
more about
natural remedies for asthma, especially asthma
that gets worse at night.)

Humid Climates and Ear Infection. Did you know that
living in a humid climate can cause ear infection?

In 2010, K.R. Aneja with the Department of Microbiology at
Kurukshetra University in Haryana, India, along with
colleagues,  analyzed a particular type of ear infection called

Otomycosis is a fungal infection of the external ear, usually
caused by the specific fungi Aspergillus niger and A.
fumigatus.   The team collected samples from 118 “clinically
suspected” patients with otomycosis between the ages of 6
and 75, and isolated the fungal agents involved.  78% of
these patients were confirmed to have fungal otomycosis,
and the “major predisposing factor” for the otomycosis was
“the wearing of traditional customary clothes followed by
itching on other body parts and swimming.”  

Several kinds of fungi were identified, including the two
mentioned above.  The researchers conclude that a higher
incidence of otomycosis, or outer ear infection, may be
caused by high levels of humidity, and/or warm and dusty
environments (keep in mind that the study was conducted in

Even if you find yourself living in a dry, cool place, you might
want to consider the possibility of increased risk for ear
infection during your next tropical vacation.

Malnutrition and Ear Infections.  Many images and
conditions come to mind with the word ‘malnutrition’ though
few of us picture an ear infection.  However, researchers
with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others have
found evidence that the two may be connected.

In 2009, researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical
Medicine, Liverpool University, and the University of
Amsterdam, including M.A. Elemraid with the WHO
Collaborating Centre on Hearing Impairment associated with
the first,  conducted a study to investigate why “ear disease
is a major health problem in poorly resourced countries.”  

The team undertook a systematic review of nutritional
mechanisms related to ear disease from several research
databases, and found “evidence for an association of middle-
ear pathology with deficiencies of zinc or vitamin A.”

Let’s remember that poor nutrition is not only a problem
“over there”: malnutrition is a problem in the United States
as well.  

[Update: Children in the United States and in the United
Kingdom suffer from malnutrition in the sense that they
receive too much food without the correct proportion of
essential nutrients, resulting in high rates of obesity,
according to a 2014 report by Jessica Fanzo of Columbia

If you know of a child with recurrent ear infections, consider
whether or not he or she receives adequate vitamins,
particularly zinc and vitamin A.

Childcare and Ear Infections: Good for the Long Run.  
Parents have many concerns when dropping their little ones
off at childcare: will she miss me, will he bet bullied, will she
be a bully, how much does this cost, is it worth it, what will
he get stuck up his nose?  In 2010, researchers found
another concern for parents to add to this list: will my child
get ear infections?  However, these Canadian researchers
reassure, this may actually be a reason to send your kid to

A team of researchers from the University of Montreal led by
Dr. Sylvana Côté analyzed how group childcare influenced
the short and long term risk of infection in children.   The
team looked at eight years of data from over 1200 families in
Quebec with newborns at the beginning of the time of
study.  They found that infants who started group childcare
in early preschool (before the age of two and a half) had
higher rates of respiratory tract infections and ear infections:
however, these same kids had lower rates of both kinds of
infections during the years of elementary school.  

The team concludes that “children contract infections around
the time they initiate large structured group activities,” such
as childcare.  However, a child who starts group childcare
before the age of two and a half, and who may experience
more infections than if he or she was not in childcare, seems
to be protected “against infections during the elementary
school years. Physicians may reassure parents that infections
during the first child care years do not lead to a higher
overall burden of infections.”

Bottom line? Childcare (and increased risk of ear infections)
now, for less infections later.

Air Pollution Can Also Pollute Your Ear.  It might not be
whether or not your child goes to childcare (see above) that
determines his or her likelihood for ear infections, but the
very air that fills his or her daily life.

In 2011, Elaina MacIntyre with the School of Environmental
Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver  led
a team of researchers in a study investigating the connection
between air pollution and middle ear infections in “all
children in southwestern British Colombia during 1999-

These kids were followed until the age of two, and
residential air pollution exposures were measured during the
two years.   Data revealed that 42% of the subjects had one
or more physician visits for otitis media (middle ear
infection).  When comparing this data with corresponding
levels of air pollution, the study concludes that “modest but
consistent associations were found between some measure
of air pollution and otitis media.”

If your child, or even an adult that you know, suffers from
ear infections, consider the environment where he or she
lives.  It might be time for an extended trip to the mountains.

Ear Infection and the Little Ones: Are Pacifiers to Blame?  
Anyone who’s ever seen a concerned parent around his or
her child knows that new parents can be extremely nit-picky,
from which kind of fabric the child wears, to what kind of
toys the kiddo can be alone with.  Researchers from the
Netherlands have recently given anxious parents something
more to worry about: pacifiers.

In 2008, a group of experts from The Netherlands, including
Maroeska Rovers from the Julius Center for Health Science
and Primary Care at the University Medical Center in Utrecht,  
studied whether or not pacifiers increased the prevalence of
acute otitis media.  The team gathered data from 495
children between the ages of 0 and 4 years, from the years
2000 to 2005.  The parents filled out a questionnaire about
pacifier use, and otitis media was diagnosed by physicians.  

Of the 216 children who used pacifiers at the beginning of
the study, 35% developed one or more episodes of acute
middle ear infection.  The team concludes that “pacifier use
appears to be a risk factor for recurrent [acute middle ear

If you’re worried about your infant’s susceptibility to ear
infection, consider asking your physician about solutions
beyond the pacifier for that itchy gum, always-need-
something-in-the-mouth problem.

Allergic Rhinitis, Adenoiditis, and Otitis: Yikes!  There’s all
sort of things that can go wrong with our ears nose and
throat, and it makes sense that they might be somewhat
related to each other.  

Research from 2008 finds that ear infections may be
attributable to other conditions, particularly the lucky
experience of having allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. hay fever or
nasal allergies ) and adenoiditis (swelling and infection of
the adenoids, which are spongy tissues in the back of the
nasal cavities of children – they generally disappear during
adolescence)  at the same time.

287 children with upper-airway infections were evaluated by
Italian experts from the University of Pavia and the
University of San Martino in Genoa, including Dr. Gian Luigi
Marseglia with the Department of Pediatric Science at the
first.  53 of these children had a diagnosis of middle ear
infection, out of which 23 showed “acute rhinosinusitis,” 10
had adenoiditis, and 20 showed all three conditions.  The
data encourages the team to label allergic rhinitis and
adenoiditis as “significant risk factors” for the development
of middle ear infection, especially when the two conditions
are present at the same time.

Allergic rhinitis is triggered by plant pollen, dust, dander, and
other outdoor enemies that could come from trees, grasses
or weeds.  Sadly for some people with allergies, sometimes
the best treatment is to avoid areas where symptoms arise.
However, there are also medicines that may be prescribed,
such as antihistamines, decongestants, or allergy shots.
8. Smoking Parents Can Put Disease In Children’s Ears.  Yes,
this sounds frightening.  British researchers have recently
found that parents who smoke may increase their child’s
odds for middle ear disease (MED), which, if left untreated,
can lead to hearing impairment. (Read more about
remedies for tree pollen allergies.)

In 2011, experts with the University of Nottingham and St.
George’s University of London, including Dr. Laura Jones
with the first,  analyzed sixty-one case studies “related to
the association between secondhand tobacco smoke and
middle ear disease in children.”   Results showed that living
with a smoker was “associated with an increased risk” of
middle ear disease, and that the highest risk came when
mothers were the smokers.  The study concludes that
130,200 of middle ear disease cases each year in the UK, and
292,950 cases of ear infections in the U.S. are “directly
attributable” to second hand tobacco smoke exposure at

You’ve heard it before but the study above says it again:
parents who smoke put not only their own health at risk, but
also their child’s.

Bathing in Infection.  If you’re worried about ear
infections you could cut back on dangerous activities – you
know, like bathing. Bathing in “recreational seawaters,” that

In March of this year, researchers at the University of
Thessaly in Greece, including Anna Katsiaflaka with the
Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology,  assessed the risk
of infectious disease among bathers after exposure to
seawater. The study followed 3805 bathers and 572 non-
bathers, and though the water analysis “demonstrated
excellent quality of bathing water,” bathers showed
“significantly increased risks of symptoms” for several types
of infections, including ear infections.  Furthermore, bathers
showed “increased rates of medical consultation and
medication use.”
For some people, fun in seawater fun might be worth the
risk of increased ear infections: for others, the above data
might be a convincing reason to keep the beach fun on dry

Be Sure To Pick Parents Without Ear Infection.  Eye
color, body type, temper, brains, likelihood for ear
infections: if only we had some say in the matter.
In 2011 a large team of researchers from Finland and
Sweden, including Lena Hafren with Helsinki University
Central Hospital  estimated how much genetics has to do
with recurrent ear infections.  

1279 children who required surgery for chronic ear infection
at the Helsinki University Central Hospital between 2008 and
2009 were recruited for the study.  Their parents answered
questionnaires, and “heritability estimates” were calculated.  
Calculations demonstrated a “moderately strong and
statistically significant genetic component for both recurrent
acute otitis media and chronic otitis media.
So, for those of you out there looking for something/one to
blame for your recurring ear infections: blame your parents!  


Childhood Obesity: Even the Ears Aren’t Safe.

It seems that the more we hear about the problems involved
with childhood obesity, the more the condition grows as a
problem in the U.S.  A recent study suggests that in addition
to all of the other reasons to prevent childhood obesity, we
should look out for the safety of our children’s ears.

In April of this year, 2012, a team of researchers in both
Canada and Germany, including Dr. Paul Veugelers with the
University of Alberta in Edmonton,  examined the connection
between middle ear infection and childhood obesity in
elementary school children living in Nova Scotia.  They found
that “relative to normal weight children, obese children had
more healthcare provider contacts for otitis media,” and had
“higher odds” to having repeated otitis media.  The team
concludes that there is a “clear association between
childhood obesity and otitis media.”  

Helping your child lead a healthy life may not guarantee
against chronic ear infection – but it seems that it could
decrease the risk.  Either way, it couldn’t hurt to encourage
exercise and healthy eating habits in your child’s lifestyle.
(Read more about the
ideal weight for children of different

Tinnitus -Symptoms and Remedies /Meniere's Disease-Ideal
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Connection /Foods That Shrink Your Waist / Ideal Weight
for Women / Swollen Ankles -Causes and Cures /Tight Bras
and Briefs-Health Dangers /Are Diet Sodas Bad for Your
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