Although most earaches are viral in nature – and therefore not treatable by antibiotics – the common belief used to be that it’s best to prescribe them “just in case.” Turns out, that approach actually increases a child’s risk of recurrent ear infections and other problems.
Fortunately, most earaches– whether truly an infection or an irritation due to another cause – clear up without any treatment, says Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, who helped write the new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for treating ear infections. Harvard Medical school concurs in this article, as do many other sources.
What approach does the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommend?
For otherwise healthy kids with mild inner ear pain and no conditions that “may alter the natural course” of acute otitis media (anatomic abnormalities such as cleft palate, genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, immunodeficiencies, the presence of cochlear implants, recurrent ear infections, etc.), the AAP now recommends a wait-and-see approach. (source)
In plain English, that means:
Children ages 6 months to 2 years with an infection in one ear who don’t have a high fever, severe pain or other complications can be watched for 48 hours without antibiotic treatment to see if the infection gets worse, the guidelines say. The same watching period applies to older children with a mild infection in one or both ears.” (This is easy to understand interpretation of these technical guidelines from the AAP was written by LiveScience.)
If things aren’t getting worse, my understanding of the guidelines is that it’s fine to continue with watchful waiting. (I’m not an expert, of course, and this is not medical advice. I’m just sharing my understanding based on the guidelines and conversations with my children’s pedi.)
According to this New York Times special report, between “80 – 90% of all children with uncomplicated ear infections recover within a week without antibiotics.”
So, how can we help our kids be more comfortable?
The AAP recommends administering pain relievers to make children more comfortable, but some parents opt for other comfort measures.
Specifically, warm salt in a sock, applied to the ear and jaw area to soothe discomfort and support healing. I used this remedy with one of my littles a few months ago and it worked beautifully, so I wanted to pass it along. Like many of my favorite remedies, it’s been used for generations.
How To Make A Soothing Salt Sock For Earaches
- 1 clean, cotton sock. Longer socks are better because you’ll need to tie the ankle section in a knot in order to keep the salt in.
- 1-1½ cups coarse sea salt (I’ve also used epsom salt with good results)
- a few drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil (optional)
Pour salt in the sock and tie the ankle section in a knot. Place sock in a clean skillet over low/medium heat, flipping often to ensure that the salt is warming evenly. When it is very warm (but not so hot that it will be uncomfortable), apply a couple of drops of essential oil directly on the sock if desired. Place the warmed sock on the ear and allow it to sit there for as long as you wish. Repeat the process if desired.