If you are a parent, chances are you have experienced a child with an ear infection. Ear infections seem to be one of the hallmarks of being a kid. Much like teething and growing pains, ear infections seem to be a normal part of growing up. I remember having ear infections quite often as a kid. I can vividly remember my grandma having me lay down while she placed the warm rice sock over my ear. And I can still feel the pain. Now that I am a mom, I have been on the caregiver side of ear infections a few times.
WHAT CAUSES AN EAR INFECTION?
Ear infections are typically a secondary illness following a cold, flu, or allergy. During an illness the Eustachian tubes become inflamed, swollen, or blocked causing bacterial or viral fluid to become trapped in the middle ear where it then turns into an ear infection.
WHY ARE CHILDREN PRONE TO EAR INFECTIONS?
Although adults can get ear infections, they are much more common in children. There are a couple reasons for this.
- Eustachian tubes are smaller and more level in children than they are in adults. This makes it difficult for fluid to drain.
- A child’s immune system typically hasn’t developed enough to fight off the bacteria or virus. Especially if they are struggling with gut health.
HOW ARE EAR INFECTIONS DIAGNOSED?
Diagnosis is based off of symptoms described by the caregiver/child and signs (ear tugging, fever, etc.). Then an otoscopic examination is done. During the otoscopic exam the medical professional is looking for swelling, redness, puss, and effusion (fluid behind the ear drum). Based on this the doctor will decide if the child has:
- Acute otitis media (AOM)–Fluid has been observed in the middle ear along with signs of infection (swelling/bulging of the ear drum, redness, puss).
- Otitis media with effusion (OME)–Fluid has been observed in the middle ear, but there are no signs of infection.
The medical professional will then go on to recommend one of two things: Antibiotics or the wait and see approach. In the case of AOM antibiotics are typically prescribed right away. The wait and see approach applies to:
- Children 6 to 23 months with mild inner ear pain in one ear for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 F (39 C)
- Children 24 months and older with mild inner ear pain in one or both ears for less than 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 F (39 C)
WHY YOU SHOULD SAY NO TO ANTIBIOTICS
In my experience, medical professionals are far too eager to prescribe antibiotics for ear infections. In most cases, ear infections are caused by a viral infection, not a bacterial infection. The only true way to know if the ear infection is bacterial would be to perform a Tympanocentesis. This involves using a needle to pierce the ear drum and collect the fluid behind the ear drum. Considering most kids barely tolerate the otoscopic exam, chances are this isn’t going to happen. Also, in most cases the ear infection will resolve on its own if given the chance. But still, doctors routinely prescribe antibiotics for AOM or OME.
I have personally heard multiple times “the doctor wasn’t able to look in his/her ears, but they are pretty sure it’s an ear infection so we got antibiotics”. That is a haphazard way to practice medicine. Antibiotics are given out like candy on Halloween when it comes to ear infections.
Reasons to think twice:
- Antibiotics kill ALL the bacteria in your gut. Including the beneficial bacteria that keeps your immune system strong. The same immune system we rely on to fight off ear infections.
—> Read more about gut health and your immune system HERE. <—-
This means that after using antibiotics for an ear infection you are more susceptible to other infections as well as more ear infections. This is why kids often have reoccurring ear infections. Sometimes 3 over the course of one month. This is not three separate ear infections. This one long ear infection and antibiotics ARE NOT working.
- Antibiotics have additional risks besides messing with your gut flora. I bet that when your child’s doctor prescribes antibiotics for an ear infection, or anything else, they do not mention any risks. Well there are risks. Side effects of antibiotics include but are not limited to:
- Breathing problems
- Blistering, peeling, redness of the skin
- Allergic reaction–some even deadly
- Antibiotic resistance
- Fungal infections
- Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile
- Kidney failure–Antibiotics can overburden and damage the kidneys in people with kidney conditions.
Those are the mild side effects. Penicillin (the class of drugs used for ear infections) allow bacteria typically found in the bowel to move up to the intestines, predisposing the person to irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) and other digestive problems, especially with children. —>read study here and—->here and—>here.
- Antibiotics do not allow the immune system to do its job. When antibiotics are quickly thrown at an ear infection, it disrupts the child’s natural immune system from making its own antibodies. This is an important process that needs to take place to allow the immune system to strengthen for future infections.
THE DEAL WITH TUBES
When a child’s ear infections become reoccurring, doctors begin talking about tubes. Ear tubes are tiny cylinders placed through the ear drum (tympanic membrane) to allow air into the middle ear. Ouch.
Risks of ear tubes include: Perforation, scarring, infection, and repeated surgeries. This is also a procedure that requires general anesthesia, sometimes more than once. Risks of general anesthesia include: Irregular heart rhythms, breathing problems, allergic reactions to medications, gut dysbiosis and even death. There is also research regarding the effect of anesthesia on children’s brains. Like this study which shows children under the age of 4 who received two or more anesthetics were at an increased risk of developing learning disabilities later on.
In the case of reoccurring ear infections I am confident in saying antibiotic exposure is why. Stop the antibiotics, change the diet, heal the gut and in turn you will heal the immune system and you’ll have given the body the tools needed to heal itself. There is no reason to undergo the risk of anesthesia and surgery right out of the gate.
There are a number of safe, effective and natural alternatives when it comes to treating ear infections. Prevention is always easiest. Ear infections can be prevented with the following:
1. Chiropractic care. This is super important! The reason ear infections come to be infections is because of fluid building up behind the ear drum that is unable to drain. Being adjusted by a Chiropractor allows the fluid to drain by utilizing occipital subluxation, atlas subluxation, and axis subluxations. Regular chiropractic care, especially during cold and flu season is imperative. If an ear infection has begun it’s important to seek chiropractic care right away.
2. Having good gut health and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoiding processed foods, excess dairy, and sugar.
3. Avoiding antibiotics.
Even with preventative measures, ear infections can still occur. There are many home remedies. Below is what I do. When caught early enough, the infection typically resolves in about 24 hours. I have had my daughter go from crying in pain to nothing overnight. Please note that NOTHING should be placed in the ear if the ear drum has ruptured. It is a good idea to purchase an otoscope, like this one otoscope from Dr. Mom, to use at home. This way you can check for ruptured ear drums along with ear infections. Don’t worry its easy!
1. Garlic/mullein oil. Garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic for centuries. There are actually hundreds of studies detailing garlic’s strong antimicrobial properties. Mullein is a yellow flowered plant with potent painkiller, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Dose: Store bought–As directed on bottle. Try to let the oil stay in the ear for at least 10 minutes. You can make your own. However, I find it inconvenient since the oil needs to be infused daily.
2. Colloidal Silver. While controversial to some, colloidal silver is an effective natural microbial antibiotic made of minute silver particles suspended in water. This brand from Sovereign Silver, works well.
Dose: 2-3 drops in the ear 2-3 times a day. Try to let the oil stay in the ear for at least 10 minutes.
I like to have my child lay their head on one side and apply the colloidal silver drops. Have them lay there for 10 minutes and switch sides then repeat the silver on the second ear (even if only one ear is infected it’s a good idea to treat both). Then after about an hour repeat the process with the garlic oil. With a baby or toddler this obviously isn’t going work. In that situation, do the best you can and get creative and be don’t be afraid of bribery.
3. Eliminate dairy. Dairy causes mucus build up and is inflammatory. Eliminate it along with sugar and processed foods.
4. Essential oils are a great tool. But please remember they are very concentrated and volatile substances that need to be used with caution. For children under two, please no essential oils unless under the care of a licensed aromatherapist (please note that a licensed aromatherapist is not the same thing as your friend who sells for an MLM). Read more about essential oil safety here. For children over two you can utilize lavender, tea tree and basil. All three are shown to have antimicrobial properties and the lavender can be very soothing for earaches.
Dose: All essential oils need to be added to a carrier oil with no more than a 1% dilution ratio. See chart below. Apply behind, NOT IN, the ear twice a day.
5. Salt sock for pain. Fill a long cotton sock with Epsom salt, or another course sea salt. Tie the sock. Heat the sock by warming a skillet over low/medium heat and flipping the sock often. Or place in microwave for 15-30 second increments, flipping each time. Be careful of hot spots. Sock should be rather warm but not uncomfortable. Place the sock on the ear and let it stay as long as the child will tolerate.
6, General immune building. It is important to also treat the overall immune system. Focus on rebuilding gut health and incorporate a good immune system boosting protocol.
**DISCLAIMER: This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnosis or treat, as I am not a doctor. Please consult with your physician before starting any new vitamins, diets, or remedies. And always do your own research on natural remedies to ensure that you think they are safe.**