Every so often you encounter something that is so simple and effective, that you wonder why you didn't know about it before, and why doesn't someone put it in a “handbook” for life. One of the things that should most certainly be in that handbook, at least in the category of home treatments for common illness, is the use of an onion compress for an earache. Yes, it will make you or your child smell like onions, and it sounds ridiculously simple, but in the middle of the night it can really be your friend.
Why does it work? Well, most of the pain associated with an ear ache is from pressure, as fluid or mucous builds up in the space of the middle ear. And what happens when you cut up an onion? It makes you cry. It has a warming, loosening, irritating effect on your eyes and nose which helps to pull fluid right out. This effect can be put to good use when there is a lot of fluid built up and it needs to be released. It can be done in several simple steps:
- use a regular cooking onion, then
- cut it up into small pieces (~1/2 inch square) and wrap them in a piece of cheese cloth, or other thin cloth
- or, take several layers of the onion and lightly steam them (just enough to loosen the juice)
Then place the onion over the painful ear. It should extend far enough that it comes into contact with the skin both in front of the ear, as well as over the bones behind the ear. Then wrap a warm scarf or put a warm hat over the top to keep it in place.
This should not be used if someone has an allergy to onions, or can't stand the smell of them. Also, do not use the compress over broken skin. And just to make clear, this is not a substitute for more complete treatment if there is a true ear infection, but it is a very helpful tool. If you have ear pain related more to a change in pressure, or altitude (like after air travel), make a strong tea with loose chamomile in a shallow bowl and breathe in the steam (make a little tent with a towel). Please share these techniques with anyone you think could use it.