Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ear Aches - Misplaced Confidence in Healing

Childhood diseases are a given when kindergarten and public education exposes students to unknown, random viruses and bacteria spread by a multitude of persons and agents. Even though I had the obligatory small pox vaccine, the other contagious epidemics of chicken pox, mumps and both kinds of measles did not pass me by, not to mention every variation of cold virus known to man.

My siblings and I were elementary students (grade school) during the polio epidemics. My susceptibility to viruses worried my parents, especially after a classmate with severe asthma contracted the dreaded paralyzing disease. When the vaccines became available, I was first in line.

However one childhood malady incurred far more often -- earaches. With colds, bronchitis or any respiratory infection, I developed earaches, one ear or both, a source of excruciatingly, tear provoking pain. In those years there were not many forms of relief. Most home remedies were aimed at alleviating pain, not the primary cause, infection.

I was subjected to home-made blistering mustard plasters, vaporizers, Vicks nasal drops and Vaporub and Metholatum or Musterole Ointment, warmed olive oil in the ear. Eventually, the earache would be relieved, but more often it ruptured which to my young mind was an horrifying event of blood and pus.

Physicians then had a procedure of "lancing" which essentially put a small hole in the eardrum for drainage after a shot of Novocaine. Lancing did not rip and tear the eardrum like spontaneous rupture.

At one point in my childhood my parents relied on a family friend, a chiropractor, for preventive health and medical needs. I am unaware of how he became our primary source of medicinal consultations, but the entire family got adjustments on a regular basis. Since he was a rancher, I wonder if he and Daddy has some cattle or land deals.

Although my young bones sounded as if they were popping and cracking, the adjustments usually did no harm, caused no distress and may have been helpful.

Chiropractors certainly have their place in our health system. My parents, especially Dad, who did a lot of physical labor in his management of a lumber yard, really seemed to benefit. He and Mother had migraine headaches which they attested were relieved by an "adjustment."

The time spent away from their rambunctious offspring was probably the curative factor, rather than the "adjustments."

In the area where I now live, chiropractors are in heavy demand among the elderly population of aching backs, necks and extremities. Some patients go to a chiropractor after exhausting orthopedic and primary care physicians whose medical advice and treatments have failed. These patients invariably become ferocious disciples of chiropractors.

However, one earache event convinced my parents of the need to return to a primary care physician, then called a general practitioner.

I had double earaches, and was screaming with pain, all day and all night for several days. Mother made appointment with the chiropractor. Since Mother did not drive, Daddy took off work to drive us to the chiropractor's office.

After jerking my head, neck and back in every contortionist move, he ordered Mother to make hot salt packs, homemade sachet-like bags to be applied to my ears continuously until relieved. Mother whipped up some little bags out of scrap materials, filled them with rock salt and heated them in the oven. God only knows what temperature, but they were blistering hot....so hot I forgot the ears were aching; instead they were scorching.

These packs were in addition to sweet (olive) oil ear drops, mustard plasters, vaporizers, OTC nose drops and chest rubs. I'm surprised a soap enema wasn't included.

Oh yeah! there was the home-made hot, and I do mean HOT, lemonade, which was the juice of lemons in a glass of very hot water. The hot lemonade was a cure-all for almost any illness in my home. There are a number of recipes; most contain honey and some have rum or similar alcoholic concoction. In my home there was no alcohol. I don't remember the honey either but there may have been a dab.

My ears were blistered from hot salt packs, my chest was burned from mustard plaster and my throat was scalded from hot lemonade. Misery heaped on misery!!!

Nothing worked. Then one night both ears ruptured at the same time. I was screaming and yelling at the ugly, yucky disaster, thinking I was dying, even though I don't think I understood the word at that age.

My screaming and yelling was louder than usual; I could not hear myself!!!

Mother sat up with me the rest of the night and near morning I fell asleep. The pain was relieved, but that did not prove to be the end of it.

The infection spread around the ears on both sides and tonsils/sore throat aggravated discomfort. This event convinced them to return me to a general practitioner.

There were few effective drugs but I was placed on a round of sulfonamides, the only antibacterial in common use. Fortunately it worked. A compounded prescription for Aspirin, Phenacetin and Caffeine with Codeine powder was also prescribed for other aches and pains. We called that concoction "Cold Powders."

Earaches are SERIOUS; they may lead to more serious disorders such as hearing loss, mastoiditis or infection of other nearby structures surrounding the ear.

To read really scary earache tale see Remembrance of A Childhood Illness – Part One: Blowing Smoke, Remembrance of A Childhood Illness – Part Two: In Which I Almost Go to Heaven and http://anarkansasstamper.blogspot.com/2009/08/remembrance-of-childhood-illness-part_07.html by Remembrances of An Arkansas Stamper.

From then on my ear were lanced when needed. Scarring from so many eardrum ruptures is primary cause of my moderate hearing loss today.

There are many home remedies for this common childhood malady; most involve some method of heat applied to the ear. A Google Search, home earache remedies, results in 89,600 hits. My recommendation to use them only until you can see a physician. There are antibiotic, anti-inflammatory ear drops now along with a multiplicity of oral antibiotics.

Having earaches is not limited to childhood. Adults have earaches, no matter who may pooh-pooh the idea. Wind, hard sneezing, persistent or spasmodic coughing and/or sudden temperature changes cause my ears to ache.

I have been battling an annoying mild earache for about a month. I think it is a mechanical effect of some persistent allergy sneezing fits. Ringing in the ear is very annoying. I have not cleared the pressure yet. I bought a decongestant yesterday. The other ear vacillates with some pressure, too. I see my physician Tuesday.

In my adult life I have had only one other encounter with a chiropractor:

In the 1980s I had severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. The stinging, tingling pain became so severe, medication only offered sleep for a few hours. Only holding my hands under cold water provided temporary relief. The attacks were more prevalent at night.

This disorder is a compressed nerve that comes out of the neck area of spine, across each shoulder, down the arm crossing the elbow to the underside of the arm, traveling through a "tunnel of bones" at the wrist into palm. Compression causes burning, tingling, stinging pain from the ring finger to the thumb. The pinkie finger is excluded.

Trying to avoid surgery, I decided to give a local chiropractor a try. My insurance would pay for a series of treatments. Since this is more in the line of chiropractic practice, it seemed worth a try, but it also failed.

I had bilateral carpal tunnel release surgery. Now there is mild compression some where along the very long nerve, causing occasional discomfort. Surgery is not in the immediate forecast. Nor is a chiropractor.

[Photo: a few items I currently use to alleviate earache - the red earmuffs replace heating pads and hot salt packs. I wear them as a preventative against wind well into Spring. Hydrogen peroxide- a few drops are as first aid remedy for ear wax . removal. Olive oil and also mineral oil can be warmed and instilled in ear blocked with a cotton plug. The tiny blue dropper bottle is a popular prescription pain reliever, Auralgan. Sudafed (available generically) is a decongestant.]


Arkansas Patti said...

Good grief, how did you survive the "cures". I have never had an earache and now I can only pray I don't. How awful.
I have had those musical ears though for 35 years. The ringing does best when ignored. They are ringing big time now since we are talking about them. I got mine from taking too much asprin for my migraines that I eventually out grew after menopause. Amen.
Good luck getting rid of the ache and hope you are soon pain free.

NitWit1 said...

AR Patti: Truthfully, in my childhood, there were not many remedies even with physician's care; money is always a factor.

Adults can enunciate their pain. A small child cannot adequately describe their misery and pain. I've filled prescriptions for screaming-with-pain toddlers I wished to carry in the back room and apply their ear drops immediately. In a former Prez's words, "I feel their pain."

I suspect my tinnitus is related to much aspirin intake as a child and even now for blood thinner. Aspirin intake in children now is a no-no.

Isn't it as marvel we survived at all to this ripe ole age?

Amber Star said...

Oh my I'm with Arkansas Patti about the fact that you did survive the cure. I had bronchitis when I was little a lot. I'm thinking a lot of the problem was allergies that eventually became bronchitis and congested sinuses. Sort of what I have right now. I don't remember many ear aches, but my half siblings had a lot of problems with that. My half brother had to have surgery to return some of his hearing. He still has to wear a hearing aid in one ear....and he is the handsomest young guy. He is only 6 months older than my oldest daughter.

My oldest half sister's kids all had earaches until they had tubes put in. That seems to be the thing to do these days. And it seems to work. Her grandaughter has just had tubes put in.

I remember vaporizers, Vicks, and some of your other "cures". Actually the vaporizer and Vicks is still around in my house. It seems to help some when I'm really congested. Thank goodness they never put a mustard plaster on me!

I was born in 1944 just about the time antibiotics came about. They were developed during the war to help wounded soldiers, or at least that is what I was told or looked up or something. I'm allergic to sulfa after so many years of being treated with it.

I've never really trusted chiropractors, but some people swear by them. Our insurance when my husband was working did not pay for adjustments. I was sorely tempted several years ago when my back was hurting a lot. I didn't go and my family doc said it was osteoporsis and the pain was referred pain to my hip from the lumbar area. Sort of glad I didn't get involved with the bone cracker.

On a closing note...thank goodness for antihistamines. I can't take sudafed...it makes me crazy as can be. But if it is time for bed I can take some benadryl and if I'm not going anywhere I can take it during the day, but I can't drive if I have taken it.

boots said...

WOW, makes me want to cry FOR you. So often we take our quick care for granted. ( I am SO thankful that I was born AFTER antibiotics for bladder infections were discovered)

I had that lemon honey and whiskey for my EVERYTHING! haha mom even tried to get me to use it on my daughter suffering with reactive breathing disorder~ she wouldnt drink it.

Thanks for coming by "my porch" today! (that is just a picture of a porch I dream of having one day ;o)

Sweetie Pie said...

Home remedies are such interesting things! My mom's solution to any bugbite, bee sting, random rash or scraped knee was an unpleasant looking paste made of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and... chewing tobacco. I was always filled with dismay when I saw her coming at me with that stuff, but... truth is... it seemed to work.

My ear was actually bothering me last week, so I started taking Sudafed. That's always done the trick in the past. It was my first time to buy Sudafed since they starting regulating its purchase. Very interesting. I hope the extra effort the pharmacists have to take in looking at my i.d. and having me sign up on "the list" helps with the meth problem as intended. I'm not trying to be a whiner, but it seems like a lot of effort for someone who is just buying a single box.

I'm happy to report that the Sudafed along with some Advil seem to have taken care of the problem. I can't imagine going through what you did with an earache. It's not good when the remedies are worse than the illness, but that often seems to be the case.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Good gracious, NitWit; your ear infections were worse than my bout with mastoiditis! (thanks for the links). I don't remember having really bad earaches before, or after, that one terrible episode. just minor twinges from time to time. Never had a ruptured ear drum, hope to never have one.

Lorna said...

I got earaches just reading this. You've put up with a lot; I hope you'll be rid of your "mild" earache soon

Silver said...

I am sorry to hear what you have to go through as a child.. and even for now, altho much milder ones..still, can be so irritating.

i wish for speedy healing for you, my dear..


Amber Star said...

You must be working on this thing again..it showed another topic when I was looking just now on my blog.

btw-you have made two Texas women happy. My cousin is going to trade me some white ones for some of your pink ones and I need to get out an mark my red one...hahah.

Liz said...

My daughter used to get bad earache. It was horrendous as there was nothing that instantly relieved the agony. But not as bad as yours must have been.