Related Terms

  • Middle Ear Infection
  • Otitis Media

Acute otitis media (AOM) is an infection of the middle ear. It is the most common part of the ear to get infections.

AOM usually follows a cold or sore throat. The virus or bacteria travels through a short tube that joins the middle ear to the throat. Ear infections affect infants and children more often because the tube is shorter and narrower.

The infection causes a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum. This can lead to swelling, pain, or brief hearing loss.

Most middle ear infections go away on their own. Treatment involves a 2 to 3 day waiting period. Medications may help to ease symptoms. Antibiotics are used for suspected bacterial infections.

Natural Therapies

Some natural therapies may help to ease symptoms and prevent future ear infections. Most methods have little evidence supporting their benefits.

Likely Effective

Herbal ear drops—mix of specific herbs. At least one combination (containing mullein, garlic, St. John’s wort, and calendula) may be as effective as standard medicine for children. The drops are used to ease pain when waiting for an infection to pass.A1-3

Possibly Effective

  • Xylitol—a natural sugar used in many products as an artificial sweetener. May block the growth of certain bacteria. However, it may need to be taken several times a day over months to have a benefit.B1-B6
    • Note: High doses may cause side effects

Unlikely to Be Effective

  • Probiotics are good bacteria that live in the gut. They are unlikely to be effective in preventing ear infections.C1-3
    • Note: May be harmful for some people

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions.

  • Herbal remedies are generally safe, but some may be irritating when used topically.
  • Xylitol is generally safe, but in doses above 30 grams a day it may cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
  • Probiotics may increase the risk of a dangerous infection in people with suppressed immune systems.

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