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Middle Ear Infections

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Recently my daughter went to a birthday party in an aquatic centre. I noticed one sad little girl sitting on the pool's edge and asked her why she wasn't swimming. She said she wasn't allowed in the water because of her ear tubes.

Recently my daughter went to a birthday party in an aquatic centre. I noticed one sad little girl sitting on the pool's edge and asked her why she wasn't swimming. She said she wasn't allowed in the water because of her ear tubes. It doesn't have to be this way, I reflected.

Each year over two million children in North America have tympanostomy surgery. Tympanostomy involves inserting a tube through the eardrum to drain off fluid in the middle ear. Our eustachian tubes are designed to be the drains, but if they become blocked, the resultant fluid backup causes pain and facilitates bacterial growth. Usually blockage is the result of inflammation and excess mucus from colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, rhinitis, or allergies.

Blockages are more common in children under six because the eustachian tube is narrower and runs at a shallower angle than in older children and adults. Normally a child might get an acute ear infection every 12 to 24 months during preschool years. If there are several per year, the problem is chronic and can't be addressed by conventional medicine alone. Barring unusual cases where susceptibility is congenital, chronic ear infections are due to diet and lifestyle factors.

Acute Ear Infections

Antibiotics used to be prescribed immediately for middle ear pain in children. However, about half the time acute ear pain is due simply to blockage and not an actual middle ear infection (otitis media). If the child has no other symptoms of bacterial infection (i.e., fever, greenish nasal or ear discharge, nausea, deep cough) it's advisable to wait one to three days to allow blockages to clear before starting antibiotics. During this time the child should have plenty of rest and fluids, a double multivitamin dose, and 500 mg of vitamin C per day. Children's pain relievers, along with camomile or passionflower, can help the child sleep and reduce eustachian inflammation. Ear pain may be due to sinus congestion. Essential oils of camphor, eucalyptus, lemon grass, and tea tree are effective decongestants in steam vapours. Add half a teaspoon of total oils to a vapourizer running where the child sleeps.

Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections are another story. If antibiotics have been prescribed numerous times but infections recur, then tympanostomy may eventually be recommended. It's crucial to understand that chronic otitis media in children, teenagers, and adults is almost always related to allergies. Food allergies are the mostly likely culprits: eggs, beans, citrus, tomatoes, dairy products, and soy allergies are commonly linked to chronic otitis media. If your child is picky and eats only a few foods, suspect his/her favourites are allergenic foods. Dermatitis, eczema, indigestion or gas after meals, and irritability may be problems, along with ear-nose-throat symptoms. Physicians have observed that thick, pasty yellow-to-brownish earwax associated with chronic ear infections is indicative of a cheese allergy.

Chronic otitis media never occurs in a vacuum it's associated with other problems, including sinusitis, hay fever, asthma, coughing, rhinitis, indigestion, and acid reflux. Your first priority is to find out what you or your child is allergic to. There may be a combination of food and airborne allergens. Mold and mildew are suspect, as they often cause chronic rhinitis, which in turn leads to nearly constant inflammation of the eustachian tubes, nose, and throat. Your second priority is to begin a natural therapy that will improve middle ear drainage, enhance immunity, and undo damage caused by prolonged antibiotic use. Bear in mind that successive courses of antibiotics may cause yeast overgrowth, which can in turn cause similar ear-nose-throat symptoms.

Ear tubes are neither a solution nor a badge of honour they are the wrong answer to your child's cry for help. Please consider every natural option before you fill that prescription or schedule that surgery.

Recovery

For a three-week recovery period, take two propolis capsules or one dropper of extract propolis/honey syrups are available for children&three times per day and one dropper of maitake mushroom extract.

Herbal authority Dr. Jim Duke recommends combining goldenseal, echinacea, licorice, and garlic. Alternatively, we recommend a traditional Chinese medicine approach combining honeysuckle, forsythia, and baikal scullcap. Use herbal blends or one capsule/tablet each.

After three weeks, take indefinitely daily or until condition improves:

  • Vitamin C at least 1,000 mg
  • Multivitamin/antioxidant
  • Magnesium 400 mg
  • Garlic 1 to 3 capsules/tabs
  • Probiotics 2 to 3 times weekly.

Use one-half doses for children aged five to 11 and one-third doses for children aged two to five. For children aged two and under, use vitamin C, probiotics, and vitamins, but consult a professional before using any medicinal plants.

Lifestyle

The incidence of ear infections correlates with specific lifestyle factors. Here are some suggestions and lifestyle choices that can help reduce your family's risk:

  • Don't smoke or expose anyone to second-hand smoke. Children living in a home with smokers have three times as many ear infections.
  • Breast-feed at least six months. Immune factors and beneficial bacteria in breast milk help prevent infections in infants even after weaning. A University of Kansas study found that breast-feeding could save $660 million US in costs for otitis media treatment (Riordan, 1997).
  • Children attending day-care centres have up to five times more ear infections than children at home or in family day care.
  • Persons regularly exposed to pesticides have more ear infections, due to chemical sensitivity, allergic reactions, and reduced immunity.
  • Practice cold and hay fever prevention all year long. Adults should take at least 1,000 mg of Vitamin C daily; children aged five to 11, 500 mg; children aged two to four, 250 mg. Use vitamin drops for infants.
  • Blow the nose instead of sniffing. Sniffing forces fluids into the eustachian tube instead of draining it.
  • Pacifier use increases ear infection risk.
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