Acute otitis media (AOM) is a painful infection of the middle ear, the portion of the ear behind the eardrum. (Another form of ear infection, otitis externa or swimmer's ear, is entirely different and is not covered here.) AOM often follows a cold, sore throat, or other respiratory illness. Although it can affect adults, AOM occurs primarily in infants and young children. It's estimated that by age 7, up to 95% of all U.S. children will have experienced at least one bout of AOM—it's the most common reason parents take a child to the doctor.
When the Eustachian tube connecting the upper part of the throat to the middle ear is blocked by a cold's mucus and swelling, fluids pool behind the eardrum, providing an ideal place for bacteria to grow. An infection may set in, generating even more fluid. The pressure this exerts on the eardrum can be intensely painful. The eardrum turns red and bulges. Children too young to explain their discomfort cry, fuss, and pull at their ears. They might also appear unresponsive because they can't hear well—fluid build-up in the middle ear prevents the eardrum and small bones in the ear from moving, causing temporary hearing loss.
Most hearing loss associated with AOM ends when the infection is treated. However, recurring ear infections and their accompanying short-term hearing losses may affect a child's speech and language development. In addition, even after the infection goes away, fluid may remain, causing a complication called secretory otitis media (fluid build-up in the middle ear), which can cause continuous hearing loss for months. Other possible, though rare, complications of AOM include mastoiditis (an infection of the bone behind the ear) and spinal meningitis.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 38 children and young adolescents evaluated the effectiveness of Pulsatilla D2 in the treatment of otitis media.1 However, the tested remedy failed to prove more effective than placebo.
Two studies compared homeopathic treatment to standard treatment for ear infections.2,3 However, these studies were not double-blind, and for that reason alone the results mean little. In addition, there is some controversy regarding whether standard treatment is very much more effective than no treatment.4–8 Therefore, even if they had been performed correctly, these studies wouldn’t have provided much in the way of information.
In classical homeopathy, there are many possible homeopathic treatments for middle ear infections, to be chosen based on various specific details of the person seeking treatment.
Homeopathic Belladonna is commonly recommended for ear infections that fit the following symptom picture: ear pain that varies rapidly in severity but is generally worse on the right, and is accompanied by fever, facial flushing, nightmares, and sensitivity to light.
Aconitum napellus is another commonly prescribed remedy for ear infections. Its symptom picture includes ear pain that begins suddenly, often after exposure to wind and cold, and then remains at a constant level of intensity, and is accompanied by high fever, agitation, and restlessness.
Ferrum phosphoricum is sometimes used when an ear infection has just begun, and the symptoms are not yet severe.
For herbs, supplements, and other alternative treatments that may be useful for this condition, see the Otitis Media article.
For a thorough explanation of homeopathy, including dilution of therapies, see the Homeopathy Overview.
1. Mossinger P. Treatment of otitis media with pulsatilla [translated from German]. Kinderartzl Prax. 1985;16:581–582.
2. Friese KH, Kruse S, Ludtke R, et al. The homoepathic treatment of otits media in children-comparisons with conventional therapy. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1997;35:296–301.
3. Harrison H. A randomized comparison of homoeopathic and standard treatment of glue ear in children. Complement Ther Med. 1999;44:132–135.
4. Rothrock SG, Harper MB, Green SM, et al. Do oral antibiotics prevent meningitis and serious bacterial infections in children with Streptococcus pneumoniae occult bacteremia? A meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 1997;99:438–444.
5. Damoiseaux RA, van Balen FA, Hoes AW, et al. Primary care based randomized, double blind trial of amoxicillin versus placebo for acute otitis media in children aged under 2 years. BMJ. 2000;320:350–354.
6. Rosenfeld RM, Vertrees JE, Carr J, et al. Clinical efficacy of antimicrobial drugs for acute otitis media: metaanalysis of 5400 children from thirty-three randomized trials. J Pediatr. 1994;124:355–367.
7. Del Mar C, Glasziou P, Hayem M. Are antibiotics indicated as initial treatment for children with acute otitis media? A meta-analysis. BMJ. 1997;314:1526–1529.
8. Alho O-P, Laara E, Oja H. What is the natural history of recurrent acute otitis media in infancy? J Fam Pract. 1996;43:258–264.
Last reviewed February 2015 by EBSCO NAT Review Board
Last Updated: 2/22/2019