Ahhhh, unintended consequences. Sometimes things work out – like when a certain kitchen helper forgets to add an egg to the lemon poppyseed muffin recipe you’re tinkering with and accidentally perfects it. Sometimes . . . not so much.
Take, for example, the once common practice of giving antibiotics to children with earaches. Although most earaches are viral in nature – and therefore not treatable by antibiotics – the common belief used to be that it’s best to prescribe them “just in case.” Turns out, that approach actually increases a child’s risk of recurrent ear infections and other problems. (source 1, source 2)
Fortunately, most earaches– whether truly an infection or an irritation due to another cause – clear up without any treatment, says Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, who helped write the new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines for treating ear infections. Harvard Medical school concurs in this article, as do many other sources.
What approach does the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommend?
For otherwise healthy kids with mild inner ear pain and no conditions that “may alter the natural course” of acute otitis media (anatomic abnormalities such as cleft palate, genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, immunodeficiencies, the presence of cochlear implants, recurrent ear infections, etc.), the AAP now recommends a wait-and-see approach. (source)
In plain English, that means:
Children ages 6 months to 2 years with an infection in one ear who don’t have a high fever, severe pain or other complications can be watched for 48 hours without antibiotic treatment to see if the infection gets worse, the guidelines say. The same watching period applies to older children with a mild infection in one or both ears.” (This is easy to understand interpretation of these technical guidelines from the AAP was written by LiveScience.)
If things aren’t getting worse, my understanding of the guidelines is that it’s fine to continue with watchful waiting. (I’m not an expert, of course, and this is not medical advice. I’m just sharing my understanding based on the guidelines and conversations with my children’s pedi.)
According to this New York Times special report, between “80 – 90% of all children with uncomplicated ear infections recover within a week without antibiotics.”
So, how can we help our kids be more comfortable?
The AAP recommends administering pain relievers to make children more comfortable, but some parents opt for other comfort measures.
I’ve already shared some of my favorite natural remedies for earaches with you, but last year I discovered a new one while reading through Salt In Your Sock and Other Tried-and-True Home Remedies by Lillian Beard, M.D. It’s . . . . yep, you guessed it . . . salt in a sock.
Specifically, warm salt in a sock, applied to the ear and jaw area to soothe discomfort and support healing. I used this salt sock remedy with one of my littles a few months ago and it worked beautifully, so I wanted to pass it along. Like many of my favorite remedies – this cough syrup for example – it’s been used for generations. In fact, here’s how Dr. Beard learned about it:
A friend’s grandmother from Italy treated all her children and grandchildren who had an earache with her sure-fire remedy, which has worked for at least two generations in her family.”
She then explains the recipe – which I have simplified in the next section – and adds:
I have recommended this to parents over the years, and many have reported that it works. My theory is that the heated salt retains the soothing warmth that eases the child’s discomfort. Perhaps the salt also draws out fluid from the painful ear. In doing so, it might decrease middle ear pressure”
How To Make A Soothing Salt Sock For Earaches
- 1 clean, cotton sock. Longer socks are better because you’ll need to tie the ankle section in a knot in order to keep the salt in.
- 1-1½ cups coarse sea salt (I’ve also used epsom salt with good results)
- a few drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil (optional)
Set the oven to 350F. Pour salt in the sock and tie the ankle section in a knot. Place the sock on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven. When the oven reaches 350F it should be warm enough. When it is warm, but not so hot that it will be uncomfortable, apply 1-2 drops of essential oil directly on the sock if desired. Place the sock on the ear and allow it to sit there for as long as you wish. Repeat the process if desired.
Pour salt in the sock and tie the ankle section in a knot. Place sock in a clean skillet over low/medium heat, flipping often to ensure that the salt is warming evenly. When it is very warm (but not so hot that it will be uncomfortable), apply a couple of drops of essential oil directly on the sock if desired. Place the warmed sock on the ear and allow it to sit there for as long as you wish. After the sock cools you can repeat the process if desired.
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Does the pan warming method work with other heat wraps (rice, bean, corn, etc.)? We didn’t replace our microwave after it conked out, and that is the only situation in which I miss it.
I have used this method with a rice sock and it worked for me 🙂
I would say it wouldn’t work with corn, though, might make a sock full of popcorn!
Corn kernnals work great! I have a heating pad with them, microwave no longer than 2 minutes so they do not burn.
Would this work for all ages…for example so you think this would be fine to use on a 5 month old? I would think it’s fine but wanted to make sure.
Can you reuse the Salt sock?
Yes! I plan to keep the one I made a few months ago on-hand from now on and will just refresh with essential oils as needed.
Can you use a salt rock – as in from your salt lamp that is heated with a light bulb?
Thank You for Sharing
I have done this for many years now except I use rice instead of salt. It is great for body aches, stiff necks, and warming feet up after being out in the cold!
I have also done this for many years with the rice. Have also put a very little Lavender in with the rice. It’s a great idea if you were on vacation to go to a Dollar Tree, get a pair of socks and a small bag of rice and fill the sock about half way with rice and tie it and there you go. I have also been making what I call rice bags with wash cloths. Get cheap washclothes(ones that you can’t see light through) and fold in half and sew 2 sides, add the rice (about half full) and sew the end up. Can make them various sizes also. The washcloth lays flat on the area that you want it. I love giving them away as gifts.
Thank you! I needed to find a substitute to the rice in a sock and then in the microwave. We don’t own a microwave. I was contemplating putting in the oven, but this is WONDERFUL!
Big smile. Score!
I have used this method for years. I often would hear the salt first in a skillet and then add it to a sock. It got so I used the microwave later on. Be careful as a microwave can burn the sock if it isn’t turned and shook often. Been there done that. ; )
Thanks for this tip! My children rarely get ear aches, but two of them just had ear aches last month. We do natural as much as possible and thankfully the garlic oil drops helped, but this salt sock remedy would have been even better! I’m pinning this for future reference.
When using a salt or rice sock on an earache, don’t lay down on hurting ear. For some reason it makes it hurts more. Secondly, I use to get ear infections all the time…when my ear starts to hurt I make a mixture of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide in the cap of one of the bottles. Then pour half into ear wait until it starts to bubble and place a part of cotton ball in hear so it doesn’t run out. Repeat with other ear. If ear really hurts, repeat several times during the day, until it does not hurt any more. This can be one or two days. Since doing this I have not had full blown ear infections and need to go to doctor.
How do use know this stuff works have use every had an inner ear infection before? Well I had and very very very painful and I am 51 years old I can’t believe what use put in the ear do use know use can be making it worse. Why are use doing this I believe if you never had this problem how can you say what works!! I can’t believe how many people let there children stuff with ear infection because people like you say try this!! Really ? piss me off
Need to make sure there aren’t hotspots in these to burn very bad!!
I would hesitate to tell people to wait on taking children to Drs because they can be suffering with excruciating pain & running risk of having severe infection that could be very dangerous & harming child severely, losing precious time to stop it! Such as ruptured eardrums,loss of hearing to meningitis,high fevers which can cause seizures!! I’ve been through these & experienced due to ignorance or u nable to do different!! And these things can quickly advance without much warning,very short time!! I truly feel back for people who can’t do much due to finances,or other reasons due to circumstances!!
I too use to get ear infections and I found a wonderful doctor who told me to mix equal parts of alcohol and apple cider vinegar and put a couple of drops in my ear. This really works! It is also fantastic for after swimming. The alcohol will dry any fluids or water and the vinegar kills any bacteria in the ear. This was recommended to me by doctor and is the best advice I could ever receive!
Who is Use ? And what do you think they did before medicine was invented, home remedies !!
All the best
I think judging by how rude she is, she must be a New Yorker and thus “use” would be “youse,” the second person plural they use in that city.
Would it be ok to place the sock in the microwave on med power
Another variation is to put salt directly into the ear. add a drop or two of oil and have child lay on other side. Addition of salt sock or warm heating pad will “draw out the impurities” [Fluid]- and help ear to heal. It also helps heal bacterial infections in the ear.
Tank you for sharing your insights.?
This looks interesting. I wonder how long it lasts? I have one of those buckwheat hull things that I bought in the mall. It has dried herbs in it that smell nice when it is microwaved. I usually give that first. The next thing is hydrogen peroxide in the ear, 10 minutes per ear. It gets very bubbly and itchy but it’s worth it. My chiropractor told me that neck adjustments for ear infections clear subluxations which might be contributing to impacted ears. He also mentioned putting mullein oil or olive oil on a cotton ball in the ear over night. None of my 3 kids has been on antibiotics for ear infections. Often ear trouble is related to ear wax. I do the hydrogen peroxide in the ears at the first sign of a cold.
Hi Heather, my question is about your Kitchen Apothecary e-book. I downloaded it awhile ago but it appears that the cover is a little different than this one you offer above. Mine does have your name on it so I know it’s yours. Did you change the book in any way? Just wondering if I should replace the old with the new if there is one.
Hi Mary! I just updated the cover. The content is still the same. 🙂
Onion juice will calm the pain of an earache. Chop a small onion finely, wrap in a thin piece of cloth and squeeze until juice drips out. Put some juice into the sore ear, put on the child’s favorite movie and the pain will be gone in half an hour.
Hi, before I started using essential oils for a more natural approach to pain relief I would get frequent painful ear infections. Once I discovered essential oils now I use a drop of cajeput oil on a moistened cotton swab for immediate relief and for more painful ear infections especially external ear infections I’ll dab a little pepper mint oil around the ear as well. Also this is safe for kids 6+. I hope this helps you guys as much as it’s helped me!
We used warm olive oil, kept in the ear by a piece of cotton, and a hot water bottle covered with a towel when I was a kid. It works great, I’ve been doing it the same way for about 50 years.
I use the rice sock method and it works great for me. Also for a touch of cuteness I like to one of those fancy socks lol.
Renee Wemmer Loredo
How would I know if the ear drum is perforated? And that it is safe to use oils inside the ear ?
If the eardrum perforates the pain will stop as the perforation is natures way of allowing the build up of gunk inside the ear actually escape and therefore relieve the pressure.
There may also be blood that comes out of the ear as there was in my case. I am a 38 year old woman!
My eardrum perforated the day I put the Olive oil in. I am now wary of this olive oil treatment as I feel this contributed to the infection that followed the perforation and possibly contributed to the ear drum itself perforating.
Delicate things our little ear drums!
Good luck ❤
I am 51 year old woman that has had trouble with getting fluid in my ears . I tried everything when washing hair to keep water out but still gets moisture in ear. After menopause the hot flaches are causing fluid to get in ear. I have really small ears fluid gets in easy but hard to get out. Would salt or rice work better?
My son has an earache at the moment – he’s 8 and this is his first one.
I’m wondering how this works. Is it only to soothe with warmth or does the salt draw out moisture/bacteria as well?
Any research showing hearing damage? Salt seems a good thing to try for a day or so.
Hi Susan, I’m not sure what you’re asking. Can you please rephrase your question?
Thank you for all this interesting information that benefits me greatly in my life
My aunt (who lived to 90) told me that when she was little my grandma used to make salt packs for this. I just never asked her how to make them. Thanks for giving the “recipe”.
cool i have a ear infection right now. im 14 i was wondering can witch hazel be a substitute for hydrogen peroxide.
I lose my hearing what can i use to recover or gain it back
I haven’t used a salt sock- but a rice sock. I was desperately searching in the middle of the night for something to ease my son’s discomfort. I was skeptical, but seriously within 15 minutes, the pain was gone and did not return.
My mother always gave us hot salt socks for earaches. Now I give them to my kids (and use them myself once in a while.) Often the soothing heat takes away the pain completely!
I did this years ago in the skillet for a tooth ache and it worked! Used regular table salt.
I love natural remedies. Especially this one since I have very sensitive ears. Will definitely try this out. Thanks for sharing.
1. Can the microwave be used to heat the sock?
2. How many times can the sock be reused?
I love home remedies because they usually are the best remedy for what’s going on. It’s my first go to before a doctor.
2. Indefinitely 🙂
Heather I am assuming the salt sock works on adults too, would that be correct?
I love this idea. I would like to share something that really, really helped us. I bumped into a wonderful woman that I knew. I shared with her that my infant was suffering with yet another ear infection (I have no idea why, but every new budding tooth brought on a new ear infection). Having a newborn & a sick infant, you could imagine how underslept I was. But I was also stressed, because I didn’t want to continue to put my little guy on antibiotics & now stronger ones. My conversation with her stopped antibiotics for us. I trusted her advice SO MUCH because she was quite an amazing woman & she was momma to 8 well cared for & loved children! She said use equal parts white vinegar & rubbing alcohol & put some in one ear for a few minutes & then let it drain for a few minutes. While that one is draining, do the other ear. Remember to drain that one too. If we didn’t catch the infection very early & it seemed like it was bad, then on the first day we would treat it 2x’s (in the am & the pm) –otherwise, use the treatment to each ear 1x everyday. After it seems all good, continue for 2 more days. The way it was explained to work, was one of the ingredients kills the infection & the other keeps the the ear canal clean & dry. I don’t remember which was which –that was almost 18 years ago! I would make a fairly large amount at the beginning of a new ear infection & keep it air tight & everyday use a clean medicine shooter for each ear. At the end, the extra mix would be used to clean a sink. This remedy worked EVERY TIME!!! My son hasn’t taken any antibiotics since then, thank God!