Most ear infections can be treated at home, but this may not be as simple as it sounds. There are at three different types, each of which has different symptoms and different treatments: one affects the outer ear, another, the middle ear, and the third attacks the inner ear.
Swimmer’s ear is a painful inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal. This is caused mainly by a microbial infection which produces pus and causes the ear canal to swell. The resulting blockage can also lead to temporary hearing loss or a sensation of “feeling” noise inside the ear. It occurs most often in those who spend a significant amount of time in water (hence the name). The extended contact with moisture naturally creates a suitable environment for the proliferation of bacteria. The following are some things that can be done to treat swimmer’s ear.
Refrain from activities that will give the ear contact with water – do not shower or swim for a few days until the infection has cleared.
Ear Drops and Topical Solutions
Ear drops and mild topical solutions with anti-inflammatory agents will clear or reduce blockage without causing undue pain. Acid solutions are not recommended as they will do more to hurt than help.
Among the remedies that can be found in most homes are rubbing alcohol, white or apple cider vinegar, and baby oil. Using an eardropper, put a few drops of vinegar mixed with equal parts water into each infected ear. Leave the solution in for five minutes, and then drain. A few drops of warm baby oil can also be beneficial. Repeating either treatment two or three times a day will generally clear the infection within a week. Rubbing alcohol gently swiped around the infection helps dry up the moisture that is feeding the bacteria. Although it may be tempting to rub the ear vigorously, do not do this as it will worsen the condition and lead to further pain.
In more severe cases, it is best to clear the ear of any debris using a binocular microspope. This will require a visit to a doctor. If the inflammation has come to the point where the canal is blocked, topical solutions or ear drops will not penetrate far enough to effect a complete cure and antibiotics will be needed.
If you do not have one, you can improvise a compress by filling a microwavable cloth pouch with uncooked rice grains or salt and then heating it up. Applying it to the ear for short periods of time will relieve pain.
Middle Ear Infection
The good news is middle ear infections generally heal by themselves. The bad news is that the healing can take up to six weeks. The following are some things you can do to make the experience more pleasant while you wait.
The pain from middle ear infections is easily treated with as acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) or ibuprofen. As with swimmer’s ear, warm compresses also reduce pain.
Remedies for swimmer’s ear can also be used to drain middle ear infections. Once the pain is reduced, clean the ear by gently swabbing a cotton tip around the outer ear – do not insert the swab directly inside the canal. Apply a few drops of vinegar plus water, heated baby oil, or hydrogen peroxide to the ear. Leave the solution in for a few minutes and then drain.
If the above remedies do not work, you may want to consider antibiotics. However, antibiotics can have negative side effects and it is always best to check with a doctor before applying one.
Inner Ear Infection
Inner ear infection, or labyrinthitis, occurs when the inner ear becomes inflamed. Strongest symptoms are severe vertigo and nausea, as well as some hearing loss. Although the most severe symptoms dissipate within a few days, patients can suffer a vague feeling of imbalance for several months afterwards. The following is a list of things to do to manage this illness.
Go to the Hospital
Do not self-treat. Labyrinthitis usually dissipates naturally, but does have the potential to develop into worse medical conditions if left untreated. See a doctor to determine your best course of action. You may need a medication to stop the vertigo so that you can function.
Stay off your feet and avoid moving as much as possible. Even slight movement can trigger vertigo and nausea.
Drink plenty of clear, preferably hot, fluids to help your body stay hydrated and energized for fighting the infection.
Clean Up Clutter
If you must get up, clear your normal pathways of debris to save yourself from potential trips and falls. Ask someone to help you walk until you are in control of your equilibrium.