Ear infections (otitis media) are the most common illnesses affecting babies and young children, and the number one reason for visits to the pediatrician, accounting for more than 35 percent of all pediatric visits. It is estimated that 62% of all children will have at least one middle ear infection before they’re one year old, and 80% will be diagnosed with at least one infection by age 3. Otitis media can either be bacterial or viral in origin. Standard treatment for most ear infections is with antibiotics, which can be effective if they are bacterial, but will have no benefit if the cause is viral. Repeated ear infections can become a chronic problem, requiring treatment year after year, and putting the child at risk of permanent hearing damage and associated speech and developmental problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a “watch and wait” approach to ear infections in children as the evidence-based research on antibiotics is showing that not only are they ineffective at treating ear infections, but that they can actually lead to repeated ear infections.
There are many factors that can cause ear infections in children. These include allergies, infections, mechanical obstructions, nutritional deficiencies, birth trauma, not breast feeding, pacifier use and other medical causes. Allergies cause inflammation and increased mucous, leading to pressure changes in the middle ear and obstruction of the Eustachian tube. The most common food allergies linked to ear infections include pasteurized cow’s milk and dairy, wheat, corn, soy, sugar and yeast. Dairy is the most common allergen in regards to ear infections.
Nutritional deficiencies are especially important, as healthy immune systems are determined by our nutritional status. Children who have a healthy diet low in sugars and processed foods, and high in essential fats, vitamins and minerals, have a decreased risk of getting otitis media. Breast feeding is extremely important for building up an infant’s immune system. The areola around the nipple contains receptors that react to proteins in the infant’s saliva. If the baby is fighting off an infection, her or her body will communicate with the mother and tell her exactly what she needs to produce in her milk to help the baby.
Birth trauma is an important cause of otitis media. Infants with traumatic births, interventions such as forceps and vacuum, or pulling on the neck are at a higher risk due to spinal and cranial injury. C-sections also increase the risk as the baby isn’t exposed to the beneficial bacteria in the vaginal canal that builds up an infant’s immune system. Even natural, unassisted births can cause stress on the infant’s spine and cranium which can contribute to subluxations which may directly affect the ability of the ear to drain, causing ear infections.
Mechanical obstruction results when there is a blockage due to misalignments of structures around the ear and eustachian tube, such as the bones of the jaw, skull and cervical spine. In a child, the eustachian tube is short, narrow and horizontal, making it easy for fluid and microbes to remain trapped in it, especially if the surrounding structures are compressing it. There are also muscles surrounding the eustachian tube, levator palatine and tensor veli palatine, which assist in active dilation of the tube. The nerves that supply these muscles originate from cranial and cervical nerves which may be affected by birth trauma, postural imbalances, minor falls and everyday childhood activities. If the muscles cannot dilate the eustachian tube properly, this may cause an obstruction and lead to fluid buildup, which can lead to infections.
Chiropractic care corrects misalignments in the spine which reduce muscle tension, decrease inflammation, increase mobility and establish proper blood flow and lymph drainage, all which can affect the function of the middle ear and eustachian tube.
Some things that parents can do to help prevent and treat childhood ear infections include:
• Warm compress with lavender oil
• Massaging the head and neck to promote drainage
• Tea tree oil massaged into the mastoid (bump behind the ear)
• Craniosacral therapy
• Supplementing with fish oil, probiotics, Vitamin D (1000-2000 IU’s), Vitamin C and coconut oil
• Breastfeeding which provides proper sucking to allow the ears to drain and provides the child with natural antibodies from the mother
It is important that you as a parent realize you have choices, and the right to make these choices for your family. Regardless of the choices you make, the chiropractic approach will improve your child’s inherent ability to function. As chiropractors, we assess your child’s spine, make the necessary adjustments to improve nerve system function and offer lifestyle suggestions to reduce nerve system stress for your child. We will also support any decision you make in your choice to treat the infection or not. This is your right as a parent, and we stand behind informed choice.