A Holistic Approach to Ear Infections: Preventative and Immediate Treatment Methods

It is 3am and your child wakes up complaining of ear pain. What do you do?

Ear pain is one of the most common complaints in the pediatric population. Parents exchange frequent stories about the number of times their child has taken a banana or cherry flavored antibiotic for one or more ear infections. It is the rare parent who sits by, not wanting to add to the anxiety of other parents, with the knowledge that their child has never taken an antibiotic for an ear ache. What’s more, the child has never had a serious problem resulting from not using antibiotics.

Over the last several years, research has shown that the majority of cases of ear pain can and will resolve on their own. Without antibiotics. Without serious outcomes. With good clinical follow-up. Yet, many children receive antibiotics, and sometimes multiple antibiotics, for ear aches and their ear aches continue to recur.

Inflammation occurs in the body and is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. When a child has an ear ache, the ear drum is usually found to be red (redness) with clear fluid or mucus buildup in the middle ear (swelling) causing pain, often accompanied by fever (heat) and occasionally accompanied by an acute loss of hearing. Even if there were an infection, most studies show that viruses are the main organisms responsible for causing the development of these symptoms, not bacteria. Neither a viral infection, nor an inflammation in the ears responds to treatment with antibiotics. Only bacteria respond to antibiotic treatment. Therefore, in the majority of cases, antibiotics do not help. And, in many cases, antibiotics may cause more harm than good especially with multiple doses which can lead to drug-resistant bacteria in the body.

Many cases of chronic ear infections are due to food or airborne allergies, hypersensitivity reactions or nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals can weaken a child’s immunity. Most children do not get all the vitamins and minerals they need, predisposing them to chronic inflammation and recurrent infections. The most common allergens are cow’s milk and dairy products, wheat, eggs, chocolate, corn, soy, peanuts, shellfish, sugar and yeast. DAIRY is the number one contributor to childhood ear problems. These allergies can cause inflammation, mucus production and significant pressure changes within the middle ear, as well as blockage of the Eustachian tube.

In addition to allergies contributing to the blockage of the Eustachian tube, another form a blockage called biomechanical obstruction can lead to ear problems for kids. This blockage is due to the structures around the ear and Eustachian tube, including the bones of the jaw, skull and neck. These bones are move gently in sync with one another, allowing the proper movement of fluid in the head, sinus’, Eustachian tubes and ears. Falls, chronic infection and the trauma of birth, especially if forceps were used during delivery can change the proper movement of these bones allowing fluid to accumulate behind the Eustachian tube which can lead to inflammation.

Conventional pediatric practice focuses on prescribing treatment once a child’s symptoms have already appeared. Non-conventional approaches concentrate on preventing the development of inflammation and infection and attempt to determine the causes that contribute to their presentation. Non-conventional approaches also use remedies and interventions that aid the body’s natural healing. Often, eliminating the factors that are known to contribute to the development of the underlying symptoms is enough to treat the problem without introducing additional remedies.

Reducing and/or eliminating the foods mentioned above from a child’s diet will often decrease the inflammation and prevent the development of further problems in acute flare-ups and in chronic inflammation of the ears. A good multivitamin and fish oil is also very valuable to your child’s immune system. And as always, keep your child well hydrated with water.

Before starting another round of “maybe-they’ll-work-and-maybe-they-wont” antibiotics, many parents are considering Chiropractic to help kids with chronic ear infections. This involves finding spinal misalignments and correcting them by adjusting the spine. These misalignments can occur during childbirth, from falls, poor posture, etc. For example, during the birthing process, cervical (neck) vertebra can become misaligned, disrupting nerve function, which can affect the position of the Eustachian tube. This can lead to fluid buildup in the middle ear, leading to inflammation. If left untreated it will eventually interfere with the body’s ability to function at 100%. The purpose of the adjustment is to help restore normal function of the spine and nervous system so the body can heal and regulate itself without drugs or surgery.

The Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics published a study of 332 children with chronic ear infections. Each child, ranging from 27 days to 5 years was given a series of chiropractic adjustments. The results showed that close to 80% of children did not experience another ear infection within the six-month period following their initial visit. This six-month period included maintenance treatments every four to six weeks.

Cold Laser Therapy is used in conjunction with the chiropractic adjustment. This helps with circulation allowing the fluid to move out of the ear as well as reduce the inflammation.

Craniosacral work is another treatment method and can be performed by a chiropractor. This technique involves the gentle movement of the bones of the child’s head and sacrum. The gentle movement allows drainage of the fluid that has built up behind the ear drum.

If your child begins to show signs of ear pain, immediate treatments methods include:

  • Starting your child on Echinacea within the first 24 hours of onset.
  • Use warm olive oil as ear drops in the affected ear canal. Gently pull and massage the ear lobe away from your child’s head and in a slight downward direction.
  • A combination of 1-2 drops of tea tree oil and 20 drops of olive oil can be used to massage the front of your child’s chest below the collar bone in a horizontal direction. The oil can then be rubbed behind the affected ear and massage down the side of the neck towards the collarbones. This will help open the drainage of lymph fluid into the chest and allow the congestion to drain from the head. Keep your child’s head elevated to allow proper drainage of fluid in the ear. This can be done 2-3 times a day until the congestion has resolved.
  • Most importantly comfort and hold your child!