Firstly, can I make it clear that ear infections can be very serious. In some cases prescription drugs are necessary, and in fact can be potentially lifesaving. However in the majority of ear infections, drugs will be of little use. Doctors may prescribe drugs that mask your symptoms temporarily but do nothing to get rid of the virus, bacteria or fungus causing the ear infection.

Many patients with recurrent ear infections end up on a medical merry-go-round, seeing doctor after doctor, and trying various drugs - all to no avail. They end up confused, frustrated and getting sicker and sicker by the day.

Today I want to discuss some of the drugs commonly prescribed for ear infections. I will outline their benefits and potential side effects. Once you are armed with this vital knowledge you will be in a better position to decide which treatments to pursue.

Pain relievers
Pain relievers may be prescribed to relieve the ear pain, headaches, muscle pains and sore throat that often accompany ear infections. Pain relievers help to numb the pain and may temporarily ensure a better quality, unbroken sleep.

Aspirin should never be used to control pain in children under 16, because of the rare association of aspirin with Reye's syndrome, a serious disorder characterized by inflammation of the brain and evidence of liver failure.

Strong pain relievers like Ultram, Loritab and Darvocet, should not be used long term as they eventually lose their effectiveness. People tend to take larger and larger dosages to get relief. This can lead to an addiction to pain killers which is extremely difficult to break. I have had several patients who have told me that breaking their addiction to painkillers was worse than the infection itself!

Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Naprosyn, Mobic and Celebrex are sometimes prescribed to reduce the fever and pain associated with ear infections. Although these drugs can reduce swelling and inflammation, they also have potentially dangerous side effects like increasing intestinal permeability, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. They have also been shown to reduce folic acid levels which may lead to anxiety and depression.

The role of corticosteroids is to stop inflammation. They do this by suppressing the immune system. Corticosteroids can certainly relieve symptoms temporarily but if the immune system is being suppressed then the virus or bacteria usually re-emerges once the drugs are stopped.

Antibiotics are of no use in treating the majority of ear infections - those caused by viruses or fungi.

Antibiotics are often prescribed if a bacterial infection is suspected. However research shows that:
- 90% of children get better just as fast whether they take antibiotics or not.
- There is no significant differences in speed of relief of pain, how quickly temperature returns to normal or how soon ear discharge stops.
- In adults with chronic middle ear infection there is no benefit whatever from antibiotic use (British Medical Journal)
- Repeated courses of antibiotics increases the chances that surgery will ultimately be needed (Archives of Otorhynolaryngology).

Antibiotics also have nasty side effects like destroying all the good and bad bacteria from the body and leading to immune suppression, gastrointestinal problems like bloating, diarrhea and thrush, and potential allergies. The over prescription of antibiotics is also leading to drug-resistant forms of bacteria which nothing can kill.

Antibiotics can have their place, but it is worth considering their pros and cons before talking to your doctor about whether you need a prescription.

Anti virals
Some doctors prescribe anti viral drugs for the treatment of ear infections - particularly inner ear infections which are usually caused by a virus. Side effects of anti virals include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or headache. Some people have reported hair loss from prolonged use. Others have reported dizziness, fatigue, skin rash, anorexia, leg pain, medication taste and sore throat.

Sleep medications
Sleeping pills may be prescribed in ear infection patients who have chronic difficulty falling asleep or who wake throughout the night.

Sleep medication can have short term side effects of fuzzy thinking, sedation, muscle aches, dizziness, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms. Longer term use can lead to other symptoms like upset stomach, joint pain, upper respiratory infection, sore throat and heart palpitations.

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to induce sedation, promote sleep, and to alleviate anxiety, depression and mental fatigue, particularly in those with chronic ear infections.
All antidepressants are broken down by the liver. There are also other potential side effects of antidepressants including weight gain, muscle pains, mental confusion, fatigue, headaches, stomach problems and mood disorders.

Anti-anxiety medications
Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Tegretol, Klonopin, Serax and Restoril may be used for cases of chronic anxiety. The effectiveness of these drugs wears off over time and they can become addictive. They do not promote deep, restful sleep and have been associated with drug induced tremors and mood disorders. If you are already taking Benzodiazepines you should never stop them abruptly because withdrawal symptoms will be experienced. You need to wean off them slowly with the help of your doctor.

The natural alternatives to prescription drugs
Fortunately there are some wonderful supplements, foods and herbs that act as natural antimicrobials, anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, antidepressants and sleep inducers. These come with the added bonus that they do not have the nasty side effects of prescription drugs. They work on building up the immune system so the body can fight for itself.

Natural therapies work on treating the underlying causes of an illness, not just masking the symptoms. Unlike prescription drugs which are estimated to contribute to over 100,000 deaths a year, nutritional supplements are safe when taken at the amounts recommended in my program, or as advised by your practitioner.
There are thousands of studies to validate the use of nutritional and herbal supplements to manage and correct the symptoms of poor health.

If you are currently on any prescribed medication, always consult with your doctor before reducing your medication. I recommend that you build up your immune system and stress-coping mechanisms first with the help of a naturopath or holistic doctor. Then gradually wean off your drugs with the help of your physician.

Author's Bio: 

Naturopath Elizabeth Noble BSc. Dip Nat Ther, has over 16 years experience in helping thousands boost their immunity and regain their health.

She specialises in treating patients with Ear infections and immune disorders like Epstein Barr virus and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Elizabeth's therapies include the use of vitamins, minerals and herbs, an immune-boosting diet, cleansing the body, aromatherapy, massage, graded exercise and stress reduction.

Elizabeth is the author of the e-book "Nature's Amazing Ear Infection Cures". If you or a loved one are suffering from an ear infection and want to relieve your pain, congested ears, muffled hearing and fatigue, then make sure you visit today.