Many people get earaches when they have a head cold. The same congestion that makes it hard to breathe can also block the Eustachian tube – which runs from the back of the throat to the inner ear. When mucus or pus build up next to the eardrum they can cause excruciating pain. In addition, the insides of the ears provide a perfectly warm, moist environment for bacteria and other organisms to thrive. When you’ve been swimming or had a head cold, some germs can multiply in the inner ear, causing a painful infection. Your ears are constantly open to the environment, so it’s not always possible to prevent problems.
There are many ways to ease the ache so you can rest easily again. Here’s how.
Warm it up. The quickest way to ease an earache is to place a hot water bottle or a heating pad (set to a comfortable temperature) on top of your ear. Better yet, cover your ear with a towel that’s been moistened with warm water. The combination of heat and moisture can be very soothing. As a bonus, the heat will help melt earwax, which could be contributing to the congestion.
Put garlic to work . Recent evidence suggests that squeezing a clove of garlic and putting a few drops in your ear will help kill bacteria that are causing the pain, researchers suspect that garlic may be more effective than some prescription antibiotics.
Give it the oil treatment . Putting a few drops of mineral oil in your ear can help dissolve wax and ease the pain momentarily. Mineral oil will most effective when it’s warm, so heat a little oil in a tablespoon, let it cool to about body temperature before putting it in your ear.
Fight back with Echinacea . This traditional healing remedy, which is available at health food stores and some grocers, ahs been shown to stimulate the immune system so that it’s better able to fight the infection. Keep some Echinacea handy in your kitchen or bathroom cupboard, so that as soon as ear pain strikes, you can take them as needed. You can also buy Echinacea in tincture form, which is added to hot water to make tea. Echinacea also works well for colds, which could be the source of earaches.
Clear out the wax . It’s normal for the ears to produce a little wax, which helps trap grit and debris before they get into the inner ear. When you have too much earwax, on the other hand, it can change the pressure inside your ear, causing earaches. For helpful hints on getting rid of earwax, see the earwax chapter on page 86.
Try a decongestant . Because earaches often are caused by congestion, you may want to drop by the pharmacy and pick up a decongestant. These products will reduce congestion in the sinuses and throat, relieving pressure in the ears. Be sure to follow all label directions and warnings carefully.
Take flight precautions. Air travel is fast and convenient, but it isn’t without drawbacks. When you soar above sea level the pressure inside the ear changes, which often causes earaches. Flying can be especially uncomfortable if you already have a cold or congestion. To reduce the discomfort, bring along some gum. Chewing helps reduce the pressure that causes the pain.
Practice “sound” advice . The ears really aren’t designed to tolerate loud noise. Anything louder than normal conversation or heavy traffic can gradually damage the inner ear, which could cause hearing loss as well as pain. When you’re going to be in a noisy place – a rock concert, for example, wearing ear plugs will help prevent earaches and long-term damage.
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