Home Remedies for Ear Infections

While ear infections are more common in children, people of any age can get them.

Because ear infections often clear up on their own, healthcare professionals are hesitant to jump to prescribing antibiotics as a first course of treatment unless the infection is severe, the child is very young, or there are other mitigating circumstances.

This has many people turning to home remedies for ear infections. Many home remedy recommendations—often passed from one person to another through word of mouth—are not backed by scientific evidence and may even be harmful. It's important to evaluate home remedy recommendations for ear infections for accuracy and safety before trying them out. And as always, when in doubt, ask your healthcare provider.

A close-up of a woman grimacing with pain as she presses her fingers to her ear.


IAN HOOTON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Ice Compress

Commercial pre-made ice packs can be used, or an ice compress or cold compress can be made at home.

How to Make an Ice Towel:

  1. Using cold water, wet a towel and squeeze out excess moisture.
  2. Fold the towel.
  3. Place the folded towel in a leak-proof, sealable bag such as a Ziploc freezer bag.
  4. Place the sealed bag in the freezer for 15 minutes.

How to Make an Ice Pack or Cool Compress

  1. Place ice cubes in a leak-proof, sealable bag such as a Ziploc bag.
  2. Partially fill with water.
  3. Seal the bag, squeezing air out as you go.
  4. Wrap the bag with a damp towel.

How to Use It

Apply it to the affected ear for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Some people find it helpful to alternate between cold and warm compresses.

Does It Help?

Cold compresses won't cure an ear infection, but they can help ease ear pain.

Cold can numb the area and help reduce inflammation.

Warnings

Never put ice or a cold pack directly on the skin, as this can cause tissue damage. Wrap it in a towel, paper towel, or another suitable barrier before applying it to the skin.

Be mindful of temperature and time. To avoid damage such as frostbite, don't make the compress too cold, and never leave it on for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Heat Compress

Commercial heat compresses or heating pads can be used, or heat compresses can be made at home.

To make a homemade heat compress, simply wet a towel with warm water and squeeze out the excess.

How to Use It

Apply the warm compress or heating pad to the affected ear for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Hot compresses can also be alternated with cold compresses.

Does It Help?

Heat compresses bring more blood to the area. As with cold compresses, heat compresses will not cure an ear infection but can help with pain relief.

Warnings

Be very careful to avoid burns, especially when applying heat compresses to children.

Make sure the compress or heating pad is not too hot, and do not apply it for more than 20 minutes at a time.

If using a heating pad or similar device, do not apply directly to the skin, and keep it on for 20 minutes or less. Never sleep with a heating pad, and always supervise a child who is using one.

Heat compresses are not recommended for infants.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are the most recommended treatment for ear pain and for fever that sometimes accompanies ear infections.

For infants over 2 months: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given if the baby's healthcare provider gives the okay.

Fever In Young Infants

If a baby younger than 3 months old has a rectal temperature or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher, they need to go to the emergency room, even if there are no other symptoms.

For infants age 6 months or older, toddlers, and older children: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) are options.

Never give children aspirin, as it puts them at risk of a rare but serious condition known as Reye's syndrome.

For adults: Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen (Aleve) can help. Neither aspirin nor naproxen should be given to children unless directed by a healthcare provider.

How to Use Them

The dosage, type, and frequency of doses depend on the type of medication, the age of the person, their weight, and other mitigating factors such as medical history.

If a child is under age 2 or has never taken this medication before, contact their healthcare provider before administering it.

For children and adults, follow the directions on the package carefully.

Does It Help?

OTC medications can be quite effective for pain and/or fever.

They won't cure an ear infection, but they can make you much more comfortable while your body fights the infection.

In addition to relieving pain and fever, NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) can help reduce inflammation.

Warnings

Children under 6 months who are showing symptoms of an ear infection should see a healthcare provider before starting any treatment.

Read all directions before administering medications to children or taking medications yourself. If dosing children by weight, make sure you have an up-to-date and accurate weight calculation for them.

Check for drug interactions with other medications you are taking before taking OTC medications.

Contact a healthcare provider if you notice any adverse effects.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can be used on its own or in OTC ear drops, typically for removing excess ear wax or for treating or preventing swimmer's ear (an infection of the ear canal).

How to Use It

  1. Apply about half an ear dropper full of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution into the ear canal.
  2. Let it bubble and fizz.
  3. Allow it to drain properly by turning your head to the side and pulling back on the top of your ear.
  4. Use drying drops or a hairdryer to eliminate any moisture that is left behind in the ear.

If using OTC drops, follow the directions on the label.

Does It Help?

Cleaning your ears occasionally with hydrogen peroxide can help keep bacteria out of your ear canals and stop ear wax from building up. This could help prevent infection, but it won't treat a middle ear infection as it can't reach the middle ear.

The only way for it to reach the site of infection with a middle ear infection is if there is a hole in the eardrum, in which case it would be unsafe to use hydrogen peroxide.

Warnings

Do not use if there is a suspected perforated eardrum.

Garlic

Garlic has become an area of interest for study for its potential health benefits. The current research does not have a consensus as to its efficacy, but some studies show promising results depending on how it is used.

Raw Garlic

Freshly crushed raw garlic has shown promising results as an antimicrobial in part because of a defense molecule contained within it called allicin.

Allicin has been shown, at least in vitro (outside of a living organism), to have strong antimicrobial properties. Animal studies suggest it may also help fight infection inside the body. But more research, particularly on humans, is needed.

Some studies suggest that garlic supplements can reduce the occurrence and/or duration of colds, a common cause of ear infections. But these studies are small, and more research needs to be done.

Warning

Do not put garlic, or any foreign objects, into your ear.

Garlic Oil

Garlic oil has antimicrobial properties and is sometimes suggested as an ear drop for ear infections.

This is advised against, as it won't reach the source of the infection behind the eardrum unless the eardrum has a hole in it. If the eardrum is perforated, it still has not been shown that garlic oil is safe to use in the middle ear.

Garlic May Interact With Some Medications

Garlic supplements should not be taken with medications that are transported by P-gp. This includes:

  • Colchicine
  • Digoxin
  • Doxorubicin [Adriamycin]
  • Quinidine
  • Rosuvastatin [Crestor]
  • Tacrolimus [Prograf]
  • Verapamil

Because of the increased risk of bleeding associated with garlic supplements, talk to your healthcare provider about their use if you take an anticoagulant (blood thinner) such as warfarin (Coumadin) or if you need surgery.

Garlic supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of saquinavir (a drug used to treat HIV infection) and other medications, dietary herbs, or supplements.

Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, including garlic.

Ginger

Ginger is a root that is commonly used as a spice in foods and is considered to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

How to Use It

Ginger juice or ginger infused oil can be applied on the outer ear. Do not put ginger in the ear.

Does It Help?

Ginger has been used for generations as a health remedy and appears to have several health benefits, but those results are mostly observational and anecdotal. Studies have been performed, particularly animal studies, but without strong, conclusive results.

More research is needed on the health benefits of ginger both taken orally and applied to the skin.

Warnings

Do not put ginger, ginger juice, ginger infused oil, or any other forms of ginger into the ear.

While ginger is largely considered safe, it is best to consult a healthcare provider before applying or consuming it outside our typical use as a food spice.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil comes from the evergreen leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree.

How to Use It

Tea tree oil is used topically to help with skin conditions and can be added to a bath or vaporizer (if supported by the manufacturer) to help with lung problems.

It should never be taken internally and should not be placed into the ears.

Does It Help?

While tea tree oil does appear to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, it is not safe to be used in the ear and should not be used to treat ear infections.

Warnings

Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed and must be kept away from children and pets.

Allergic rashes from tea tree oil are possible, so testing on a small area before use is advised.

Do not put it in the ear, as this can cause damage to the inner ear.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apple juice. Some studies indicate it has antibacterial properties.

How to Use It

  1. Mix equal parts warm water and apple cider vinegar or equal parts rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and apple cider vinegar.
  2. Using a dropper, add a few (five to 10) drops into the affected ear, with the head tilted to keep the mixture in the ear.
  3. Let the mixture sit in the ear for five minutes before allowing it to drain out.

Does It Help?

Because of its antibacterial properties, it may help with an outer ear infection such as swimmer's ear, but it will not help a middle ear infection.

Warnings

Do not use for a middle ear infection.

Do not use if there are tubes in the ears or there is a perforated eardrum or one is suspected.

Breast Milk

Breastfeeding passes infection-fighting agents from parent to baby, but the amount of these agents vary.

One study found that after the first one to two weeks after birth, the amount of white blood cells found in the breastmilk is low when both breastfeeding parent and baby are healthy.

The number of white blood cells in the breastmilk increased significantly if either the nursing parent and/or the infant had an infection. The increase was larger when the parent had an infection than when the infant did, particularly if the infection was in the breast (mastitis).

Breastfed babies are less likely to get ear infections than those who are formula-fed. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continuing to breastfeed for at least a year is recommended for several reasons, including reducing the risk of ear infections.

When to See a Doctor

See a healthcare provider if:

  • A child younger than 6 months has a fever (even as the only symptom) or shows signs of an ear infection.
  • Symptoms do not improve within 2 to 3 days.
  • Symptoms get worse.
  • Symptoms are severe.
  • There is hearing loss.
  • There is a fever of 102.2 F (39 C) or higher.
  • There is pus, discharge, or fluid coming from the ear.
  • Severe pain suddenly stops (may mean a ruptured eardrum).
  • There is swelling behind the ear.
  • New symptoms appear (especially severe headache, dizziness, swelling around the ear, or twitching of the face muscles).
  • You think medical attention is necessary.

See a healthcare provider immediately if:

  • An infant under 3 months has a temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher.
  • There is a fever over 104 F (40 C).
  • There is a stiff neck.
  • A child acts sluggish, looks or acts very sick, or does not stop crying despite all efforts.
  • The child’s walk is not steady/they are physically very weak.
  • There are signs of weakness in the face (like a crooked smile).
  • There is bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear.
  • Ear pain is severe.
  • You think immediate medical attention is necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to see a doctor for an ear infection?

Most middle ear infections are fought off by the body without treatment within a few days. If your ear infection does not require antibiotics, further treatment is not necessary. But some home remedies may help with comfort and symptom relief.

How do you get rid of an earache fast?

The most effective method of relieving ear pain is OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Adults can also try aspirin or naproxen (Aleve), but neither of these should be given to children unless directed by a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

While antibiotics are sometimes necessary for an ear infection, especially in children less than 2 years old, ear infections usually go away on their own within a few days.

To help with symptom management while your ears heal, some home remedies can be helpful. That said, others are unproven or possibly harmful.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a treatment for yourself or for your child, and never put anything in your ear or your child's ear without the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Was this page helpful?
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. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ice packs vs. warm compresses for pain.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. How to steer clear of swimmer's ear. Updated December 18, 2020.

  3. Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015:401630. doi:10.1155/2015/401630

  4. AMA Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, Nwachukwu ID, Slusarenko AJ. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014;19(8):12591-12618. Published 2014 Aug 19. doi:10.3390/molecules190812591

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

  6. Asher GN, Corbett AH, Hawke RL. Common herbal dietary supplement—drug interactionsAFP. 2017;96(2):101-107.

  7. National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Garlic. Updated December 2020.

  8. Karuppiah P, Rajaram S. Antibacterial effect of Allium sativum cloves and Zingiber officinale rhizomes against multiple-drug resistant clinical pathogensAsian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2012;2(8):597-601. doi:10.1016/S2221-1691(12)60104-X

  9. Bode AM, Dong Z. The amazing and mighty ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.

  10. Michigan Medicine. Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). Updated September 23, 2020.

  11. Fraise AP, Wilkinson MAC, Bradley CR, Oppenheim B, Moiemen N. The antibacterial activity and stability of acetic acidJournal of Hospital Infection. 2013;84(4):329-331. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2013.05.001

  12. Hassiotou F, Hepworth AR, Metzger P, et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3. Published 2013 Apr 12. doi:10.1038/cti.2013.1

  13. Harvard Health. Earache. Updated January 2019.

  14. Cleveland Clinic. Ear infection (otitis media). Updated April 16, 2020.