Ear infection treatment: Do alternative therapies work?

Alternative ear infection treatments are common on the internet and in books and magazines. Examples include chiropractic adjustments, homeopathy and herbal eardrops.

You may be seeking alternative treatments for your or your child's ear infection because you're concerned about using antibiotics or your doctor has recommended watchful waiting. You may turn to alternative treatments to ease discomfort.

But in most cases, researchers haven't adequately studied alternative ear infection treatments using widely accepted scientific methods. For this reason, doctors generally don't recommend alternative ear infection treatments for use in children.

Some alternative ear infection treatments have been studied with mixed results.

  • Homeopathy. Homeopathy involves using highly watered-down preparations of natural substances, typically plants and minerals, to treat symptoms of an illness. This is a controversial treatment for ear infection.

    Study results have been mixed, and it remains unclear whether this treatment is beneficial. Many such products aren't well monitored.

  • Chiropractic treatment. This involves manipulating the body so that the skeleton is in alignment. Supporters of chiropractic treatment claim that certain manipulations can prevent or cure ear infections.

    No long-term studies have proved the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for ear infections.

  • Xylitol. Xylitol is found in many fruits and is used as a natural sweetener in chewing gum. In some studies, xylitol has been found to help prevent — but not treat — ear infections, but results are mixed. To be effective, xylitol needs to be taken in high doses. Common side effects include abdominal pain and diarrhea.
  • Probiotics. Certain strains of these "good" bacteria, which occur naturally in the body, may help prevent ear infections in infants and children. Studies have been done on oral probiotics and nasal sprays with mixed results. Probiotics generally are considered safe and aren't known to cause side effects.

    Other alternative ear infection treatments that show some possible effect include traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture, and herbal eardrops. But more study is needed to determine the effectiveness and safety of alternative treatments.

Before your child uses an alternative ear infection treatment, be sure to:

  • Learn about treatments. Understand your options and what's involved. Find out what benefits their specialists claim the treatments provide and the potential risks or side effects.
  • Find out the cost of treatment. Alternative therapies may not be covered by medical insurance.
  • Assess the credentials of anyone who supports alternative medicine. Gather information from a variety of sources and carefully evaluate the information.
  • Tell your doctor. It's important for your doctor to know if you decide to use an alternative therapy. Some treatments — such as herbal supplements — may alter the effect of other therapies or medications. Others may create dangerous drug interactions.

Last Updated Mar 24, 2020


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