Home Remedies for Toddler Ear Infections

Ear infections are common in children. Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are three years old, and ear infections are the most common reason for childhood doctor's visits.

Common signs of ear infections in children include:

  • Ear pain (an older child may complain of an earache, while younger children may cry, be fussy, or tug at their ears)
  • Fever
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble hearing or responding to sounds
  • Clumsiness/problems with balance
  • Fluid draining from the ear

Because of concerns surrounding antibiotic resistance, many doctors are avoiding prescribing antibiotics for ear infections unless absolutely necessary.

Treatment is usually more focused on pain relief, which can be managed effectively at home in most cases.

baby at the doctor

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Home Remedies 

There are a number of tips for helping relieve children's earaches at home. Some of them are quite effective, and some fall closer to the category of "old wives' tales" without much evidence to back them up.

Remedies that have shown to be most helpful include the following:

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers

OTC medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can help to relieve pain and to reduce fever if necessary.

Warning: Children and Aspirin

Children should not use Aspirin unless directed by a healthcare professional as it puts them at risk for Reye's syndrome.

It's important to follow proper dosing guidelines based on the child's weight and/or age.

Warm or Cold Compress

A cool or warm wet washcloth applied to the outer ear for 20 minutes can provide some relief for earache.

To avoid the risk of burn or frostbite, make sure the compress is not too hot or cold, and don't apply it for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Sleep Position

Certain sleep positions can help relieve pressure on the ear and reduce pain.

Try elevating the child's head by stacking pillows. For babies and toddlers, put pillows under their crib mattress on one side as pillows are unsafe for them to sleep on directly.

If only one ear is affected, have the child sleep on the opposite side to take pressure off the infected ear.

TLC

Sometimes the best "medicine" is good old-fashioned tender loving care.

Help the child get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Find calm and relaxing activities the child enjoys such as curling up on the couch with a favorite movie.

Ear Infection Home Remedy Myths

While often recommended to parents through word of mouth, some home remedies for ear infections and earaches have little evidence to back up their efficacy and may even be harmful or sting the ear. These include:

  • OTC numbing drops
  • Garlic
  • Oils such as olive or tea tree

Preventive Steps Are Key

The best thing for an ear infection is to avoid one entirely. While not a guarantee, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of a child developing an ear infection.

Vaccinations

Keeping a child up-to-date on immunizations is important for many reasons, among them helping to prevent ear infections.

All vaccines are important, but vaccines such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine are especially recommended.

The Pneumococcal Vaccine and Ear Infections

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against Streptococcus pneumonia, which is a common cause of middle ear infections.

Avoid Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is harmful to children in many ways, including increasing the risk of ear infections.

Breastfeeding

Breastmilk contains many substances, such as antibodies, that help prevent children from a variety of illnesses including bacterial and viral infections.

Breastfeeding for the first year or longer can help reduce the risk of ear infections.

Practice Good Hygiene

Getting yourself and your child into the habit of frequent handwashing with soap and warm water goes a long way in preventing illness, including ear infections.

Keep bottles, pacifiers, and other items that go in the child's mouth clean, and if possible use a sippy cup instead of a bottle to reduce the surface area for germs to live on.

Stay Away From People Who Are Sick

Children in child care are at an increased risk of getting ear infections.

While avoiding exposure to illness may be more difficult at daycare or school, it is best to avoid play dates and other gatherings with people who are sick or when the child themself is sick.

Be Mindful When Bottle Feeding

Avoid putting a baby or child to bed or down for a nap with a bottle, and never prop the bottle to feed a baby.

This helps to prevent ear infections and is important for other reasons as well such as safety and dental health.

When to Call a Doctor

While home remedies are often all that is needed for a child's ear infection, a visit to a healthcare provider may be necessary.

Call your child's healthcare provider if:

  • They are under six months of age
  • They are under three months of age and have a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher (see a healthcare provider right away, even if there are no other symptoms)
  • They have a fever of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher
  • Symptoms last longer than two to three days or get worse
  • Symptoms (such as ear pain) are severe
  • Pus or discharge is leaking from the ear
  • Hearing loss occurs or is suspected
  • Ear infections are reoccurring
  • Your child snores while asleep
  • You think your child needs to be seen

Your child's healthcare provider may want to see the child even if home remedies seem to be working.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is an ear infection diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask questions about the child's medical history and symptoms, then look into the ears with a lighted instrument. Occasionally other tools may be used such as a pneumatic otoscope, which blows a puff of air into the ear canal, or a tympanometer, which measures how flexible the eardrum is at different pressures.

How common are ear infections?

Ear infections are more common in children than in adults, with 90% of children having at least one ear infection, and 20% of children having frequent ear infections.

What if my child keeps getting ear infections?

Sometimes ear infections can be ongoing (chronic), frequently recurring or the fluid in the middle ear can even remain for months after the infection has cleared. In these cases, ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes) may be necessary to help drain fluid from your child's ear.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Ear infections in children. Updated May 12, 2017.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Middle ear infections. Updated February 22, 2013.

  3. Seattle Children's. Ear infection questions. Updated May 5, 2021.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. 3 home remedies for an ear infection. Updated January 2, 2020.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ear infection. Updated August 27, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal disease. Updated February 2021.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Ear infection information. Updated February 20, 2013.

  8. KidsHealth from Nemours. Ear tube surgery. Updated June 2019.