Otitis media (middle ear inflammation) is commonly referred to as ear infection, even though in many cases there is no actual infection present. Chronic ear infection can be a complex, multifaceted problem. The main causes are:
3. Nutritional deficiency
There are over 16 scientific studies that show that many cases of chronic ear infections are due to food or airborne allergies or hypersensitivity reactions. Allergies can cause significant pressure changes within the middle ear, as well as obstruction of the eustachian tube. The most common allergens implicated in ear infection are cow’s milk and dairy products, wheat, eggs, chocolate, citrus, corn, soy, peanuts or other nuts, shellfish, sugar, and yeast. Dairy is the number one contributor to childhood ear problems. Proper allergy management, such as elimination and rotation diets, can produce dramatic recovery in allergic children with chronic ear infections.
If immune function is lowered for any reason, bacteria or viruses from the nose or throat can find their way into the middle ear and contribute to an ear infection. When these germs multiply, pus builds up behind the eardrum and increases the pressure, which leads to pain and swelling in the ear. Often a common cold with a stuffy, runny nose or a cough precedes the ear infection.
Nutrition is important in the prevention and treatment of ear infections. An organic, unprocessed, whole foods diet, low in sugar, is essential for creating good health with high immune function.
Fats: Dietary fats can either enhance or impair immune function, depending on the type of fat. The wrong types of fats (hydrogenated oils found in deep fried foods, margarine and baked goods, and saturated fats such as meat and dairy) can predispose a child to recurrent infections and inflammatory conditions. Essential fatty acids (the good fats) are essential to normal immune and nervous system function. A recent study found that the U.S. has the highest incidence of essential fatty acid deficiency in the developed world. Fatty acid deficiency contributes to ADD and ADHD and other learning disorders, as well as poor immune function. Essential fatty acids are found in flax oil, evening primrose oil, borage seed oil and fish oil. This should ideally be started by the mother while she is pregnant and during breast-feeding.
Vitamins and Minerals: Deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals can weaken a child’s immunity. As with adults, most children do not get all the vitamins or minerals they need to keep their immune systems strong. Therefore, it is valuable to give children a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Vitamin C is essential to the immune system, and depending on the child, the need may be from 250 to 500 mg of vitamin C per day.
Vitamin A deficiency has been shown in animal studies to lead to ear infection.
Zinc is necessary for proper immune function and conversion of fatty acids.
Supplementation of the diet with intestinal bacteria is important to healthy immunity, especially if a child has been on antibiotics.
L. acidophilus is recommended for children over age 7, and B. bifidus for children under 7.
Antibiotics and Other Medications
Ear infections are rarely an emergency and usually will get better without antibiotic treatment. However, there are signs that a parent should watch for. These include high fever, listlessness, stiff neck if the child is old enough to move his/her head, and abnormal mental function. If these things occur, you should have the child seen immediately for evaluation.
Research over the last 8 years has shown that antibiotics actually make very little difference in the recovery from an ear infection. Yet, antibiotics are usually prescribed in children with ear infections. A reasonable approach in treating a child with an ear infection, who is otherwise healthy, is to wait four days and see if the body will recover without antibiotics. If after four days, the infection has not gone away, antibiotics may make a difference. Keep in mind that if an allergic child continues to be exposed to an allergen, or if the main cause is not resolved, recurrent infections are likely.
Giving medications to block and suppress an illness can push the illness further into the body. One reason for recurrent ear infections may actually be the medications the child was given to suppress the first infection, including decongestants, Tylenol, aspirin and other drugs. Anti-inflammatory drugs block the formation of some chemicals that promote inflammation, but they also block chemicals that naturally prevent inflammation, as well as trigger the release of substances that make inflammation worse.
Herbs are helpful to prevent and stop ear infections at various stages of the illness.
Echinacea can be given in child size dosages to prevent a cold from causing further problems.
Children’s Ear Formula -an effective Chinese Herbal formula for clearing up Ear aches.
Lifestyle habits also make a difference in recurrent ear infections. A child should not lie down on his or her back to drink a bottle or feed. This is more likely to push fluids into the Eustachian tube and cause ear problems.
Dr. Sally Sherriff, DAOM, practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutritional medicine. 831-295-6327.