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Earache, belarriko mina

Ear pain (Agurain, Mendiola, Moreda-A; Lezaun, Obanos-N) or earache (Amézaga de Zuya, Mendiola-A) were the most common term in Spanish for otitis or hearing problems with associated pain

In Basque, it was belarriko mina (Bermeo, Durango, Gorozika, Lemoiz, Nabarniz, Orozko-B; Beasain, Berastegi, Bidegoian, Elgoibar, Hondarribia, Oñati, Telleriarte, Zerain-G; Lekunberri-N); belarrietako miñak (Goizueta-N); beharriko mina (Sara-L, Donoztiri-BN); bearritako miña (Arraioz-N); belarri-mina (Eugi-N, Ataun-G).

In San Martín de Unx (N), one person interviewed remembers, cases of suppurative otitis known as “bursting ears" were quite common when they were a child.

In the majority of cases, their appearance is put down to cold (Agurain, Bernedo, Mendiola, Moreda-A; Astigarraga-G; Izal, San Martín de Unx-N). People therefore wear a scarf to keep their ears warm when it is cold (Muskiz-B).

In Mendiola (A), earaches are put down to infections and in Astigarraga (G), it is believed that they are caused by a pimple inside the ear.

As regards ear hygiene, they used to be kept clean using a hairpin and a handkerchief (Allo-N), even though this is now advised against.

Several remedies are described below which were used to relieve earache, regardless, as is the case in the majority of folk treatments, of its cause. They all share the characteristics of being very well known and therefore have a wide geographic distribution.

Olive oil

A wide widespread practice has been to put a few drop of preferably warm oil into the ear with the problem. Another similar remedy has been to place cotton wool soaked in oil in the painful ear.

Frying chamomile flower heads in oil and then using the chamomile oil in the ear has been very commonplace. As has already been explained, cotton wool has often been soaked in the oil to act as a dropper as well as well as being used to cover the ear canal after dropping the oil in.

Earwax build-up

Earwax build-ups do not always cause pain, but are annoying and can lead to temporary hearing losses. The problems caused are treated using a very well-known and common remedy, identical to the one in the previous section: a few drops of warm oil are put in the ear to melt the build-up of wax for as long as necessary.

Mother’s milk

A rather widespread practice was to put a few drops of milk from a breast-feeding mother into the ear. This remedy was usually applied to babies by their own mothers who used drops of their milk. If the child had already been weaned, a woman who was breastfeeding and other than the child’s mother would sometimes need to be found.

Remedies using plants. Belarri-belarra

The plants used to relieve earache usually had succulent leaves, which could then be easily crushed to collect the juice, which was then used as to cure the infected ear.

One of them was navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris), a species that usually grows on walls, and the other an immortelle known as common houselook that is usually found on old roofs (Sempervivum tectorum). Both belong to the Crassulaceae family. Yet again, the people interviewed often used a singular popular name to refer to both species, in this case belarri-bedarra, which describes their use without differentiating between the species in question. It should also be noted that as the plants harvested were identified by the different interviewers, it can be understood that it is not totally reliable at times.

Applying heat and other remedies

It was common in certain communities to apply heat on the infected ear as a remedy to relieve the pain or at least reduce it (Beasain, Zerain-G; Obanos-N).

Hot handkerchiefs were used in Bernedo, Moreda (A) and Izal (N). A poultice of hot milk with soaked bread was used in Carranza (B). In Lemoiz (B), a paste was made out of boiled wine and bran, covered with a handkerchief and then held against the patient’s head.

Buzzing or humming, belarriko durundia

In Nabarniz (B), buzzing in the ear is known as belarriko durundia.

In Mendiola (A), momentarily buzzing or humming in the ears can appear for no apparent reason, even though it is associated to a change of height or pressure. It is stopped by swallowing saliva, chewing hum, inhaling nasal decongestants or alternately pressing your ears using the palms of the hands.