Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

Shocking things people do to remedy ear infections

Taking matters into your own hands when you have an ear infection can have horrifying consequences and could lead to permanent ear damage.

Natural gurus claim that there's a home remedy for just about anything, so we looked into some of the "natural remedies" that Health24 readers have resorted to for relief from the pain and discomfort that accompany ear infections and ear disorders.

We consulted our resident doctor for comment on these "treatments" and found that while some of the famous traditional remedies might work, others pose serious health risks.

On the hearing expert's forum on Health24 we found these common "remedies":

1. Perfume to remedy smelly ears

This reader says she has suffered from smelly ears for quite a while, but didn't know that it was a medical condition that needs to be treated by a doctor. She has used perfume, scented lotion and aftershave to "freshen" her ears.

We asked Health24's Dr Owen Wiese about the treatment method, and he strongly advises against it.

"If a person's ear is smelling to the point where they become aware of it, the ear must be examined to rule out infection.

"Trying to hide the smell with perfumes could make matters worse and cause serious damage to the ear." Dr Wiese says.

Read: What are the possible causes of foul-smelling ears?

2. Garlic and fish oil for itchy ears

Allergies and sinus problems have caused extreme itching in this woman's middle ear. "I have read that boiling garlic and fish oil and using it in the ear could soothe the itching." She asks whether the concoction is recognised as a solution by medical professionals, which Dr Owen Wiese denied.

"Although itchy ears can by very uncomfortable, the cause must be established before treatment can be recommended," he advises.

It is always best for the patient to get advice from a doctor as there are various factors to consider when diagnosing the cause, and treatment is also not as simple as whipping up an oil and garlic recipe.

3. Ear clogged with wax

A buildup of earwax is a common issue for many, but "the problem cannot always be solved with an earbud as the wax is too hard sometimes", says Health24 reader Charisse. She mentions that using a hair-pin does the trick, but leaves her with earache.

With regard to scratching in your ear, Dr Wiese says that no foreign object should ever enter the ear canal, including earbuds. "It can cause damage in the ear canal which may lead to infections, or it can push the accumulated wax deeper into the ear, which can cause damage to the eardrum."

4. Castor oil or olive oil to remedy earache

This reader used castor oil to remedy her earache, and it worked. She got rid of pain, but was left with blocked ears.

Dr Wiese says that because some people have experienced relief from earache using castor oil, there is a belief that this will ease pain in the ear. But, this is not always the case, he says. "If the pain is due to a severe middle ear infection, castor oil will probably not make any difference.

"In fact, it might become more of a problem when the eardrum has ruptured," he says.

He adds that in some cases castor oil might actually make matters worse.

5. Cotton wool and salt water in ear

After her 10-year-old daughter's ear started bleeding, this Health24 reader dipped cotton wool into salt water and put it into the ear "to drain the blood". She suspects that her daughter's eardrum might have burst.

Dr Wiese stresses that cases where blood comes from the ear should always be examined by a medical doctor.

"The blood may due to trauma in the ear canal itself, or due to a ruptured tympanic membrane or from the middle ear. It could also be an indication of abnormal growths or even cancers in the ear," he says.

"Trying to stop the bleeding is one thing, but establishing the cause is the most important part."

What Health24's hearing expert says about natural remedies for ear problems

Audiologist, Karien van der Sandt, one of Health24's hearing experts, says that many people use home remedies in order to seek immediate relief for earache, or to save time and cost.

She says that although some of the home remedies may ease symptoms, the difficulty is that earache can be generated from an outer ear infection or fungal ear infection. There could also be a wax probe pressing against the eardrum. This occurs in the outer canal part of the ear, but earache can also be caused by an acute middle ear infection, which occurs behind the eardrum. To complicate matters even more, earache can also be a result of referred pain due to dental problems.

The difficulty with self-treatment is that without consulting an expert patients wont know the cause of the ear trouble, and different causes require a different treatment plan. The incorrect treatment could do more damage. It is therefore vital that patients consult an ENT specialist when experiencing any ear related difficulty; it could actually save you money in the long run.

Specialists know what the ear canal looks like inside and can assess whether there has been any damage to the eardrum. This is vital when diagnosing ear problems and prescribing treatment.

If you have any ear-related problems, ask our expert or visit the hearing management centre.

Read more:

When to take earache to the doctor

Parents call for ear piercing in babies and toddlers to be banned

Ear infection can disrupt a child’s life

Image: Shutterstock


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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