Ear infections are one of the most frustrating illnesses for both parents and children
Especially if the ear infections happen often. Ear infection is one of the most common ailments affecting young children. As WebMD shares, over 60% of colds in infants and toddlers result in an ear infection.
Otitis media or an ear infection is a broad term used to describe several conditions that can affect the middle ear. It is one of the most common childhood illnesses in the world and one of the main reasons for a visit to the paediatrician. I have come across my fair share of unhappy, uncomfortable, feverish, ear rubbing babies and toddlers. I am very concerned for every child that comes to my rooms complaining of chronic ear infections because this can put children at risk for permanent hearing damage as well as speech and developmental difficulties.
Infants and children are more prone to ear infections than adults
This is because the eustachian tubes are smaller and more horizontal in kids. This means that the fluid does not drain as easily and a cold/flu-like illness can cause the eustachian tubes to become blocked or swollen. The fluid cannot drain correctly harbouring bacteria. Additionally, their immune systems are also still busy developing and strengthening.
Other risk factors include:
- Lack of breastfeeding
- Drinking while laying on the back
- Respiratory illness such as a cold
- Large day-care groups
- Air travel (changes in air pressure)
- Cigarette smoke and other environmental pollutants
- Changes in elevation
The majority of the time your little one will suffer from an ear infection before they are able to tell you what hurts, so it’s important that you identify some tell-tale signs and symptoms:
- Crying and fussiness
- Fever (most prevalent in younger children and infants)
- Pulling or tugging at the ears
- Difficulty hearing or failure to respond to quiet sounds
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Difficulty sleeping
- Balance problems or clumsiness
It is not the purpose of this blog to advise on the use of medication or surgery or suggest that natural approaches must be used as a replacement for medicine. As noted, ear infections can cause serious harm. Always seek advice from your paediatrician regarding any benefits or risks that fall within the framework of conventional medicine.
That being said, as parents you have the right to be provided with different options in helping you address recurrent infections, reduce antibiotic use and have the knowledge to practice watchful waiting.
According to Lawrence B. Palevsky, MD, FAAP, DABHM (renowned board-certified Paediatrician), a natural approach can be very effective (see full text here).
“Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the production of excess mucus, support the process of acute illnesses with good clinical follow-up and safe and effective, non-suppressive, supportive interventions and offer information for families that will both prevent and treat serious acute and chronic illnesses. In the case of ear inflammation, the two approaches that I have seen work most effectively to reduce ear fluid, ear pain and chronic ear problems is a change in the child’s and family’s diet and environment and the incorporation of manipulative modalities into the treatment plan, i.e., chiropractic, osteopathic and/or cranial sacral therapy.”
Dr Palevsky recommends chiropractic for good reason
There is a strong link between the birthing process and recurrent ear infection. During the birthing process, neck vertebrae, as well as the plates of the skull, can become dysfunctional in their movement. This disrupts the nervous system function which can affect the eustachian tube, specifically the two muscles that hold the tube open. This, combined with an increased mucous production (due to a cold, teething or any of the other risk factors I mentioned above) creates the ideal breeding ground for a middle ear infection.
By using gentle and specific adjustments with our hands (some chiropractors might use an instrument), we are able to restore motion and function to the top vertebrae of the spine. These adjustments will lead to improved function of those upper nerves supplying the muscles that open the eustachian tube.
Most chiropractors will also assess the function of the jaw and skull as these have an impact on the middle ear function and drainage too.
In addition to seeing a chiropractor, you can do the following:
- Hold and comfort your child. This releases immune-boosting hormones and soothes your child while the body does the hard work of fighting the infection.
- Try to raise the head of the bed. For smaller children, place blankets or pillows under the mattress. Reducing pressure in the head and enabling better drainage of the ear and sinuses will allow your child to get comfortable and rest.
- Keep your child hydrated with room temperature water, clear soup and/or tea. Keep the diet simple and cut out dairy products and processed foods. Homemade chicken noodle soup is a great choice.
- Keep solid foods to a minimum.
- Offer small doses of vitamin C throughout the day with fluids. Start using children’s Echinacea within the first 24 hours of symptoms.
- Diffuse lavender essential oil in the room to help calm any anxiety.
- Gentle ear massage – gently pull and massage the ear lobe away from your child’s head and in a slightly downward direction.
- Use warmed essential oils. Place several drops of either mullein/garlic, olive oil or tea tree & olive oil in a container and warm inside a pot of water on the stove. Take several drops of the warmed oil and place them in the affected ear canal. Use any one of the ear drop remedies several times a day to relieve the discomforts of the inflammation. Please be sure to use essential oils that are organic and top-grade quality whenever possible.
- Tea tree and olive oil massage. Massage the mixture onto the front of your child’s chest below the collarbones in a horizontal fashion. Then rub the oil behind the affected ear(s) and massage down the side of the neck towards the collarbones. This will help encourage drainage of lymph fluid into the chest and allow the congestion to drain from the head. This can be done 2-3 times per day until the congestion has resolved.
- Practice watchful waiting.
A note on watchful waiting with ear infections …
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has released new guidelines for managing ear infections that provide much more strict criteria to limit unnecessary antibiotic use and advise against prophylactic/preventative antibiotics for children with recurrent infections. Also, a 2017 study found that the appropriate use of watchful waiting for children with acute ear infections could reduce costs and improve health outcomes (Sun D, et al. Paediatrics. March 3, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-3086).
So what is watchful waiting?
It involves observing children with uncomplicated ear infections for 48 to 72 hours to allow for spontaneous recovery without antibiotics. However contact your medical health care provider if your child does not show improvement within 48 to 72 hours, develops drainage from the ear or appears to be getting worse.
The focus of conventional medicine is on prescribing treatment interventions once a child’s symptoms have already appeared. Complimentary approaches like chiropractic, concentrate on preventing inflammation and infection, attempt to evaluate risk factors and correct the causes such as spinal and cranial dysfunction. This approach supports the body’s natural healing abilities in a nourishing way, in to avoid suppressing the innate/inborn healing mechanisms that are present in the body which is still maturing in tiny humans.