A patient recently came to the ER with concerns about a possible ear infection. When taking a brief history – “How many days have you been ill? Do you have fever, chills, sore throat? Have you recently swum in the ocean or lake?” – it was difficult not to notice a yellowish-white substance in the patient’s ear canal.
Fresh garlic cloves.
In my 10 years as an emergency physician, I’ve certainly seen my fair share of interesting cases. Every time I meet someone for the first time, people ask me, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in healthcare?” I think that you have an accurate understanding of this because it is definitely asked.
But what fascinates me the most is the strong belief in home remedies and all healing that has persisted in the modern medical age. Applying garlic cloves or garlic oil to the ear is especially effective in treating ear infections. Where did this treatment come from?
Garlic has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years. In ancient Indian medicine, garlic was a valuable medicine; Translated from Sanskrit, garlic is called “mahoushudh” which means “cure all”. In traditional Chinese medicine, garlic has been used to treat respiratory infections and digestive ailments. The ancient Egyptians recorded the effective use of garlic in the treatment of boils.
But it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that researchers were able to identify allicin, the antibacterial active ingredient in garlic. Later, numerous laboratory studies showed that garlic has antibacterial properties.
Not surprisingly, the medicinal benefits of garlic have been passed down from generation to generation in many cultures. But is garlic placed directly in the ear an effective treatment for ear infections?
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear cavity behind the eardrum. In terms of anatomical function, garlic placed in the ear does not reach the source of infection; In fact, it can cause contact dermatitis in the ear canal – a local inflammatory reaction or an allergic reaction. Garlic oil penetrates the inner ear past the perforated tympanic membrane and causes additional damage. In some cases, garlic oil can make ear infections worse because some microbes thrive in moist, fluid environments.
But patients tell me, “My aunt swears by garlic, it always helps.” This is because the body’s immune system fights off the infection, which is usually caused by an upper respiratory virus, so most cases of otitis media get better on their own. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed if the infection persists and is accompanied by pain, fever, or other systemic symptoms. These antibiotics are safe and effective in killing the source of bacteria hidden behind the eardrum.