Whether it’s you or someone you love, most of us have experienced the dreaded feeling of a looming ear infection. For children, tugging at the ear is often the first sign that an ear infection is brewing. For adults, pain or fever may be the first sign. Ear infections are all too common, and there are many different schools of thought on how to treat them.

Heading to see an ear specialist is always the safest and swiftest route to an accurate diagnosis and alleviation of your concerns. 

Be sure to see an ear doctor immediately if:

  • Your symptoms remain after two or three days
  • Your ear is exceedingly painful, or you have other symptoms that bother you
  • You have a fever over 104 degrees Fahrenheit 

Safe to Try At-Home

In cases where symptoms are milder, you may find yourself considering at-home treatments. Be sure to stop and consider what is safe and what may cause harm before you rush out to your local health food store and start experimenting. Here are some safe ways you may be able to manage ear infection discomfort from home whether you’re waiting to see an ear doctor or already have: 

Warm or cold compress: Use warm, cold, or alternate between warm and cold every 10 minutes. Whatever offers the most relief to your affected outer ear. The temperature change can offer welcome relief for ear infection pain in mild cases.


Over-the-counter pain relievers: Pain relievers, like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, are some of the most commonly used tools to combat pain from an ear infection. These types of over-the-counter medications can reduce inflammation, lower fever, and ease the pain. Best of all, if you have seen your doctor and are taking antibiotics, most OTC pain relievers are safe to take alongside antibiotics. Win-win!


Sleep position: Sleep is bound to aggravate ear pain due to a number of factors. First, the pressure of lying down can worsen ear pain.  Second, the body’s natural dip in a hormone called cortisol occurs at night which can result in a reduction of your usual pain thresholds. We recommend trying to sleep slightly elevated, placing one or two pillows (whatever is comfortable) under your head to reduce pressure, and avoiding lying on the affected ear, which can cause severe pain.

What to Avoid

Although there are safe at-home management options, there are also several commonly touted “treatments” we recommend steering clear of. 

Many people will suggest oils as a first line of defense when you feel an ear infection coming on. Commonly recommended are garlic oil, tea tree oil, and other homeopathic oil blends. While oils can have many helpful benefits, they are not a safe recommendation for treating or caring for an ear infection, especially if used before consulting an ear specialist. 

Without an exam, you’ll be unaware if you’re dealing with an outer ear infection or a middle ear infection. A middle ear infection occurs past the eardrum, and oils cannot reach the middle ear, rendering them ineffective. 

In the event that you have a perforation (a hole) in your eardrum, these types of experimental drop treatments can be potentially harmful to your long-term ear health and hearing as certain ingredients can be toxic to the middle ear. 

When in doubt (or in pain), it’s always safest to make an appointment with an ear doctor and receive an exam in order to determine the best course of treatment. A combination of reasonable at-home management techniques and the care of a trained specialist is the quickest approach to getting well and preserving the health of your ears.