Mom bloggers have been saying this for years – if your baby’s ear hurts, reach for onions.
Although it may sound strange, and the science behind “natural” ear infection treatments is inconclusive at best, many parents find that onions and their juice are great for relieving earaches. There are several ways to do this, but the general rule is to heat an onion, extract the juice, and put a few drops in the infected ear. It’s actually a home remedy that goes back at least to the nineteenth century.
Testimonials are also very encouraging.
“Before I put juice in his ears, he just couldn’t calm down,” one blogger said of her sick little one. But after drinking the onion juice, “in a few minutes he felt relaxed (his legs were twitching and moving a lot because of the earache) and he was able to rest peacefully again.”
While skepticism is warranted in these glowing personal testimonials, there is limited scientific evidence explaining why strange home remedies work.
There is no research that conclusively proves that onions help ear infections, and if so, there is no research that shows what chemicals in onions might be involved. The flavonoid quercetin, which is found in large amounts in onions and other fruits and vegetables, is involved. Laboratory studies have shown that quercetin has certain anti-inflammatory properties, but it is not clear whether it works in the same way in humans; It is currently not a proven cure for any disease.
However, if onions are anti-inflammatory, they could theoretically help relieve ear swelling, pressure, and pain. For example, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug recommended for ear infections.
But little research has been done on onion juice. A 2001 study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine compared naturopathic drops containing garlic extract (not garlic, but related) to conventional pain relievers. The researchers concluded that both types of drops may help relieve the pain of ear infections, but a recent study on ear drops found “no strong evidence that herbal ear drops are effective.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official treatment guidelines state that “there are no studies demonstrating the efficacy of other treatments for ear infections.”
There are several reasons why parents enthusiastically support the “onion cure”. First, most ear infections get better on their own. (These infections can sometimes be serious, so you should see a doctor.) In these children, the use of onions may lead to the perception that the infection is helpful, even if the pain subsides. Other ear infections are misdiagnosed, especially in young children: Screaming in children is misdiagnosed as an ear infection.
But there are a few elements of hot onion juice therapy that overlap with more established protocols. For example, warm compresses can help relieve ear pain. A drop of liquid in the ear is soothing (for a reason), no matter what the liquid is. And the placebo effect can’t be ignored here; If a child feels they are receiving effective treatment, they will do better.
The Cochrane Collaboration, a group of independent experts, carefully reviewed the evidence on various types of ear drops and summed it up well: “It is difficult to know whether [the pain relief] was a natural result of the disease, the placebo effect of the treatment, or the presence of the ear. the sedative effect of any liquid, or the pharmacological effect of ear drops.”
You should always see a doctor about an ear infection, as antibiotics usually cure the infection as well as the pain. However, some ear infections are viral instead of bacterial and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Doctors wait a few days before seeing the patient again to see if it resolves on its own.
In the meantime, there’s no harm in asking if you can use onions, but your doctor may recommend that you try an over-the-counter pain reliever first.
So, how do you do it?
Before you do anything to your ears, talk to your doctor. Foreign bodies inside the ear, including anything that doesn’t belong there, including insects and onions, can cause pain and even hearing loss. Always be careful when following health advice from bloggers.
If you want to try this treatment that parents swear by, here’s how.
First, cook the onions in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes or in the microwave until soft. Take the onion, after it has cooled, cut it in half and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Strain any “stuff” out of the juice with a paper towel
well or coffee filter and fill a medicine dropper with the remaining liquid. Administer a few drops and you’re done.
Another “age old self-healing trick” is to just place a warm onion over your ear or place the “onion heart” — that tiny little nub in the center of the onion — into your ear and let it sit overnight.
Although there’s no explicit juice extraction in these tips, the principle is essentially the same – the goal is to get the onion juice inside the ear canal. With this in mind, it’s probably easier to simply extract the juice in the first place.