Now Ear This: Natural Ear Care Alternatives

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Ears. They’re our key to the unseen world of sound. That is why it is important to keep our ears safe and healthy. Infections, wax buildup and tinnitus can affect balance and hearing. Here are some natural ear care remedies that can keep ears funtioning at their best.

Infections
Infections of the middle ear are the most common of the auditory ailments. They are often caused by a virus or bacteria due to a previous illness such as the flu (1). Aside from congestion, the most common symptoms of an ear infection are swelling of the throat, Eustachian tubes and nasal passages (1). Some people, especially children, may experience mild to severe pain in the infected ear. This can propel many people to seek medical assistance, and antibiotics may be prescribed. When this is the case, be sure to re-establish the healthy flora in your system that are killed off with antibiotics by taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt. However, antibiotics are powerless against virus-related infections, leading many sufferers to seek alternative methods of treatment.

It may come as a surprise, but visiting a chiropractor may help address chronic and severe ear infections (2). These practitioners may use a method known as ear draining, which can be effective for up to six months after an appointment (2). Some believe regular visits to a chiropractor allow children to build up antibodies that will combat a returning infection (2). They feel it is less painful and risky than installing tubes into a child’s ears.

Garlic is another possible remedy for naturally treating an ear infection. Garlic contains allicin (3), a compound that has natural antimicrobial properties (4). Some believe placing oils, like garlic and olive, into the ear canal will help break up wax (3, 5), but research supporting this effect is limited, so talk to your doctor before trying this technique.

Several homeopathic oral tablets and eardrops are available with natural compounds to help fight ear infections. They may contain ingredients like pulsatilla or belladonna (6).

Again, please seek the advice of your doctor before placing any substance in your ears.

Ear Candling
Some consumers believe ear candling will cure ear and sinus infections; however, that isn’t its intended purpose. It’s a spiritual cleansing ritual with Native American origin. Ear candling’s main function is to remove negative energy from the body and promote natural healing (7). Some candlers feel the process loosens wax in the ear, but more evidence is needed to support these statements. The process of ear candling involves a candler and a candlee. The candler is in charge of lighting the beeswax-coated candle, placing it near the ear canal of the candlee and trimming the candle as it burns (7). There should always be water on hand to immediately extinguish the candle. Once everything is in position, smoke enters the ear to provide spiritual relief to the candlee.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has criticized the process. Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical deputy director of FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices, says that the “FDA believes that there is no valid scientific evidence for any medical benefits from [the use of ear candles]” (8), and the agency believes there’s a risk of the user getting burned. Proponents feel the process is safe and therapeutic, however. If you want to try the process, be sure to seek help from an experienced candler.

Tinnitus
Tinnitus is not a life-threatening condition, but it does cause discomfort and stress. Those who suffer from tinnitus experience a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ear (9). Several factors can cause aggravate tinnitus: stress, blood pressure and nerve damage due to loud noise exposure are examples (9). To prevent tinnitus from worsening, those affected must avoid exposure to loud noises, lower their salt intake, avoid caffeine and tobacco, exercise daily and get adequate rest (9).

Some with tinnitus have found relief through earplugs made with natural aloe vera and other natural compounds (10). Supplemental ginkgo biloba may also benefit those with tinnitus since it is known to support the circulatory system; zinc may help with age-related tinnitus; and B12 has anecdotal support for helping this condition.

When it comes to ear care, it is important to exercise caution. Research products before use, and seek the expertise of a trusted healthcare professional. WF

References
1. Mayo Clinic, “Ear Infection,” www.mayoclinic.com/health/ear-infections/DS00303/DSECTION=causes, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
2. American Chiropractic Association, “Chiropractic Approach to Ear Infections,” www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=69, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
3. T. Isaacs, “Home Remedies with Garlic Quickly Relieve Ear Aches and Ear Infections,” www.naturalnews.com/028946_ear_infections_garlic.html, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
4. S. Ankri and D. Mirelman, “Antimicrobial Properties of Allicin from Garlic,” Microbes Infect. 1 (2), 125–129 (1999).
5. J.S. Banks, “Natural Ways To Reduce Kids’ Ear Infections,” www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/08/natural-ways-to-reduce-kids-ear-infections, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
6. S. McLeod, “Homeopathic Treatment for Ear Infections Is Superior to Antibiotic Treatment and Placebo,” www.naturalnews.com/031014_ear_infections_homeopathics.html, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
7. “All About Ear Candling,” www.earcandling.com/do-ear-candles-work, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
8. WebMD, “Don’t Get Burned: Stay Away From Ear Candles,” www.webmd.com/fda/stay-away-ear-candles, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
9. “Natural Cures for Ringing in the Ears,” www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA43374/Natural-Cures-For-Ringing-In-The-Ears.html, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.
10. Cirrus Healthcare, www.cirrushealthcare.com/Tinnitex-C17.aspx, accessed Mar. 21, 2013.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2013