Here, I offer a few old-fashioned and time-tested home remedies to relieve ear pain that typically follows a respiratory infection. I've found it helpful to share these tips with parents of my young patients.
Ear Pain at Home
Cold treatment. Place a few drops of ice water into the affected ear. Be sure to forewarn the child that it’s going to feel “super cold” and maybe tell him/her that you are putting some melted snow into the ear to make the pain go away. Then have the child lie against your shoulder or sit propped up and gently stroke the side of the neck. The brief pulse of ice water causes the blood vessels of the inflamed tympanic membrane to constrict, and does bring some relief.
This trick works best if you administer ibuprofen first and try not to drip ice water on the external ear or down the child's neck.
Warm treatment. Gentle warmth around the ear can also alleviate infection-associated pain and a homemade “salt sock” can serve as a natural heating pad for infants and young children. Put a cup of uncooked rice or other grain into a thick cotton sock. Add a tablespoon of Kosher or sea salt. Shake. Then tie the sock closed and put it into a microwave oven for 30 to 60 seconds. To minimize the chance of accidental burning, parents should place the heating pad on their chest and hold the child on his/her lap. The child can then gently lean against the salt sock rather than lying flat against it while prone.
Ear Pain in the Air
A young child who has a cold and must travel by air will be very prone to ear pain, especially when the airplane begins its initial descent. On a mid-winter flight to Florida, the cry of a young child is often heard about 20 minutes before landing—when intraocular pressure starts to shift. A warm moist poultice placed in the bottom of a cup can help. Parents will need to do a bit of advanced planning to make this tactic work.
Tell them to bring along a plastic bag full of cotton balls and/or makeup pads and an insulated pack in their carry-on luggage. Once airborne and settled, moisten some of the cotton balls/pads with hot water from the beverage cart and put them in the insulated bag. By the time the flight is approaching its destination, the cotton should be sufficiently warm. Press a few of the warm moist, but not dripping, cotton balls or pads into the bottom of a small paper or plastic cup. Place the cup over the child’s affected ear to create a change in local barometric pressure that will help reduce the pain. The warm moist cotton can also be placed under the earpiece of a set of headphones.