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Ear mites: What are they and how do you get rid of them?

ear mites in a cat's ear

Ear mites are one of the many varieties of mite, this particular type taking up residence in the ear canal of both animals and humans, hence their name.  Ear mites live in the ear canal feeding off ear wax and the oils in the skin.  Most commonly, ear mites are external parasites and are associated with family pets – the cat or dog – but humans can get them too and it is quite possible that your unwelcome visitors have jumped ship from a feline or canine companion to you.

Ear mites can pass from an animal to a human the most common cause of transmission being sharing furniture or a bed with your pet.  And one infected human can pass ear mites onto another.

It’s easy to notice the signs and symptoms of ear mites in your pet, their ears become itchy, they may shake their head a lot, they will keep scratching their ears and you may also notice a dark discharge that looks like coffee grounds.  So how do ear mites present in humans?

Signs and symptoms of human ear mites

There are a number of uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms associated with human ear mites and these include:-

  • Itchiness in the ear
  • Reddening of the skin around the ear
  • Ear wax which is a darker colour than normal
  • General ear irritation
  • A sense of discomfort or pressure in the ears

Some people present with just one or two of these symptoms whereas others will have all five, it does vary from person to person.  A few people with ear mites will also suffer from tinnitus which is a condition where ringing, buzzing or humming is heard in the ear and this can interfere with the audio mechanism.

Examining a cat for ear mites (source)

Ear mites need a correct diagnosis because if they are left untreated they can eventually lead to hearing loss through persistent damage to the ear canal.  A doctor can confirm the presence of ear mites by examining the patient’s ears and taking a swab.

How to get rid of ear mites

Pet Armor Ear rinse for dogs and cats

A doctor or vet will prescribe an anti-parasitic ear drop (for example: Fluralaner) application to clear the problem in either human or animal respectively. Sometimes, a secondary bacterial infection can also develop which requires antibiotics. 

Can you treat ear mites with natural remedies?

Natural ear mite treatment with Peppermint, Cinnamon, Clove, Lemongrass, Thyme, Pelargonium and Eastern Red-Cedar

There are natural remedies appropriate for both humans and animals which can suffocate the ear mites and also have an antiseptic effect on the ear canal, however, ears do need careful management as it can be easy to flood the ear and make the problem worse.  Here are some home remedies which can lessen the aggravation of ear mites by flushing the ears and soothing any itch and irritation:-

  • Antiseptic Tea Rinse – Green tea is a natural antiseptic and can be used to flush out the debris associated with ear mites.  The crumbly black/brown detritus can block the ear canal and cause pressure problems, irritation and ultimately harbour infection.    Take a tablespoon of green tea leaves and steep in a cup of hot water for three to four minutes then strain and leave to cool.  Make sure the infusion is really cool, down to room temperature before you use it.  Use daily for a couple of weeks
  • Essential oils – essential oils are known to calm itch and irritation and can be used in small quantities in the ear canal to ease the unpleasant symptoms of ear mites and gently float out the debris which they create.  The oil will also suffocate the live mites.  Favourite oils are almond and also olive oil which is commonly used to shift ear wax.  Avoid tea tree oil for animals as this is toxic for smaller pets
  • Garlic – garlic is a natural killer of bacteria and will help keep away a secondary bacterial infection.  Crush a couple of garlic cloves into a cup of your chosen oil and leave to marinate overnight.  Always remove the garlic before you use the oil

Top Tips

  • Natural remedies need persistency and should be used twice daily for a month and this is because the mite eggs will continue to hatch for at least four weeks and the infestation will just perpetuate if you stop treatment
  • For homemade products, use an eyedropper to drop in the liquid or oil
  • Gently clean out any visible debris before applying the treatment
  • If you are using a Green tea solution and oil treatment then use the Green tea first and follow this up with the essential oil
  • Never poke or push anything into the ear, human or pet, as you risk causing damage, just gently drip in the liquid
  • Massage the ear at the base to help soften and shift any detritus
  • Always remember to protect your clothing if you are treating a pet as these treatments will loosen gunk and debris which will come flying out when the cat or dog shakes his head

Prevention is always better than cure

  • Keep a close eye on your pets for any of the telltale signs of ear mites – ear mites are less likely to spread to other animals and people in the household if they are identified quickly and treated promptly
  • If you have a pet with a serious infestation then they will need to see a vet.  If ear mites are present then the vet will prescribe some anti-parasitic ear drops
  • If you have one pet with ear mites then you will need to keep them isolated from the others until the condition has been eliminated
  • Always wash and sanitise your pet’s bedding and chew toys regularly and particularly if they are being treated for ear mites