Commonly referred to as an ear infection, otitis media (OM) is one of the most common childhood illnesses in the world. Sadly, this shouldn’t be the case because natural remedies and specific, gentle chiropractic adjustments have been shown to help considerably. Based on the research, and based on what I’ve seen clinically in practice, I truly believe that if every child on the planet were under chiropractic care, ear infections wouldn’t be the epidemic that it is today.
Hopefully, the word will spread because countless children are suffering needlessly every year!
According to the 2004 World Health Organization (WHO) report, up to 1% of children are regularly affected by chronic otitis media in developed countries (such as the Denmark, Finland, UK and USA) and as high as 45% among less developed populations, such as the Inuits of Alaska and Australian aboriginals. (1)
The infection is most commonly acquired in children aged up to 6 years, and peaks around 2 years of age. Unless it’s treated, however, the condition can persist well into early and middle adulthood. Typically the primary symptoms are soreness, pain and discomfort in the area surrounding the ear as well as: fever, fluid draining, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and grumpy behavior.
Some signs that parents should be aware of to indicate that their children have fluid accumulating in their middle ear includes:
- Popping or ringing in the ear.
- Pressure buildup. Young children unable to communicate this will oftentimes rub their ears trying to relieve the uncomfortable feeling.
- Difficulty hearing.
- Balance problems, incoordination and dizziness.
Although generally not too serious in most countries, up to 164 million cases result in some form of hearing loss and roughly 30,000 end up in death worldwide. (1)
Typically, ear infections are treated by oral antibiotics, ear antibiotic drops, ear wicking and surgery. Tubes are generally reserved for advanced, recurrent cases or when children are developing speech delay or hearing loss. Though, even in the conventional medical world, tubes are less often necessary.
Ear Tubes and Hearing Loss
According to a new long-term study by Dr. Robert Stenstrom of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, young children randomly assigned to receive ear tubes or to be treated daily with antibiotic revealed that those with ear tubes experienced significant damage to their eardrums compared to the antibiotic group. Additionally, tubes were connected to poorer hearing 6 to 10 years after they were removed. (2)
Although sold as a more permanent solution for recurrent ear infections, and/or perhaps necessary to prevent long-term damage from past infections, tubes are not without risk and even the medical guidelines are unclear when they should be utilized! In an editorial accompanying Dr. Stenstrom’s report, for instance, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado and the Children’s Hospital in Denver Dr. Stephen Berman states that the medical guidelines are confusing and that children needlessly get tubes in their ears on a regular basis. (2)
Antibiotics shorten these infections – but often, not by much – and they pose their own risks including cost, diarrhea and the development of resistance to antibiotics.
Recently, President Obama launched at $1.2 billion, 5-year national plan to combat the overuse of antibiotics. (11)
The Problem with Antibiotics & the Natural Approach to Ear Infections
First, there really is no reason that can justify the use of antibiotics for viral infections – but this is what’s happening. Although antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial (not viral) infections, a recent survey discovered that nearly two-thirds of health professionals have knowingly prescribed antibiotics when they weren’t absolutely necessary. (11)
Although some may claim that they are safe and even precautionary, the reality stands that
For many reasons, antibiotics inadvertently weaken immune health. Firstly, up to 80% of the immune system is housed in the gut. Indiscriminate annihilation of both beneficial and harmful bacteria, therefore, taxes the immune system considerably. One study, for example, highlights how moxifloxacin inhibits tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and/or interleukin-6 (IL-6); (3) ubiquitous and important immune system modulators that are important for:
- The body’s response to infection
- Promoting beneficial inflammation and tissue destruction in various diseases.
- Playing a key role in the initial response to infection. (4)
Add in the fact that overuse of antibiotics contribute to more than 4000,000 cases of infection by drug resistant bacterial and more than 25,000 deaths annually in Europe alone, and we have a HUGE problem. (5) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that there are 2,000,000 illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually in the United States as a result of super bugs. (11) We’ve caused this problem, ourselves!
At the end of the day, the problem with the antibiotic approach is several-fold: (6)
- It is a well-established fact that 80% of uncomplicated ear infections self resolve without the use of antibiotics within 3 days.
- Many ear infections are caused by viruses, which are impervious to antibiotics.
- Overuse of antibiotics has caused an epidemic of super bugs; bacteria that resistant to drugs.
- Antibiotics cause a slew of side effects such as imbalanced gut flora and digestive issues.
In the words of a Time Magazine report, this is down right irreproachable:
“Prescribing an antibiotic for a viral infection is not only wasteful, it can hurt the patient. More than 140,000 people, many of them young children, land in the emergency room each year with a serious reaction to an antibiotic. Nearly 9,000 of those patients have to be hospitalized.” (7)
According to Lawrence B. Palevsky, MD, FAAP, DABHM – a natural approach is not only more judicious, it’s more effective!
“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.” (8)
In addition to visiting your chiropractor, there are several home remedy options that you can choose from. If you suspect that your child has an ear infection, Dr. Palevsky recommends the following:
- “Hold and comfort your child.
- Try to raise the head of the bed. For smaller children, place blankets or pillows under the mattress.
- Keep your child hydrated with room temperature water, clear soup and/or tea. Herbs that help to break up the mucus and comfort your child include thyme, ginger, licorice, eyebright, elder flowers and chamomile. Keep the diet simple.
- Keep solid foods to a minimum. Offer small doses of vitamin C throughout the day with fluids. Start children’s Echinacea within the first 24 hours of illness.
- Diffuse lavender essential oil in the room to help calm any anxiety.
- Place several drops of mullein oil in a container and warm inside a pot of water on the stove. Take several drops of the mullein oil and place them in the affected ear canal.
- Gently pull and massage the ear lobe away from your child’s head and in a slightly downward direction. Use extra virgin olive oil in the same manner if no mullein oil is available or,
- Take 1-2 drops of organic tea tree essential oil and mix in a base of 20 drops of olive oil and place several warmed drops of this mixture into 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. Use the tea tree oil combination and massage it into 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 open the drainage of lymph fluid into the chest cavity and allow the congestion to drain from the head. This can be done 2-3 times per day until the congestion has resolved.
- See your chiropractor, osteopath or cranial sacral worker the next day. Repeat visits as discussed with your provider.
- Contact your medical health care provider if your child does not improve within 48 hours, develops drainage from the ear or appears to be getting worse.” (8)
In addressing an ear infection medically, here’s the approach I see being followed by more holistically-oriented MD’s. There are some incredible MD’s out there who do not run to prescribe antibiotics!
- Get checked (swabbed) to determine if the infection is viral or bacterial. Like we have learned, usually it’s viral (…and if it is, the counter-intuitive drug of choice, antibiotics, will likely not be prescribed). (9)
- If a bacterial infection is verified, ensure with the help of your MD that any prescribed antibiotic is specifically targeted to the microbe. This would represent a far more specific approach than taking a widespread type of antibiotic that affects the normal healthy gut flora and ultimately weakens the immune system.
It is also important to consider that sometimes it is difficult for your doctor to determine with an otoscope alone whether the ear infection is caused by a virus or bacteria. So, deciding on a proper course of treatment isn’t always easy. Some doctors initially treat only the symptoms of an ear infection, without antibiotics, a response that has been supported by holistic physicians like Dr. Palevsky.
Chiropractic and Ear Infection Research
One of the natural interventions that Dr. Palevsky recommends is chiropractic – and for good reason! A recent literature review in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine highlights just how effective it can be, as children have benefited under chiropractor care for literally 100 years.
The 2012 article critically evaluated 49 articles and discovered that several case reports, case series and clinical trials all confirm the same conclusion: chiropractic adjustments can nip ear infections in the bud like few things on the planet can! (10) Here are the details:
Of the 15 case reports included in this study each explained how otitis media symptoms were regularly decreased after chiropractic adjustments. And this just didn’t include the random case of OM. Nine cases described chronic 3 acute and 3 recurrent OM. One encouraging finding was that no adverse effects were observed during the treatment of the patient. (10)
Of the 4 case series that were published, similar findings were observed. (10)
The study also uncovered 4 articles describing 3 different clinical trials connecting chiropractic to helping children with OM. A total of 167 patients were evaluated into these clinical trials, and a majority reported a decrease in symptoms. (10)
In My Experience…
Growing up working in my dad’s office, I recall all types of kids coming in with ear infections as their chief complaint only to see them recover marvelously after my dad checked them for vertebral subluxations and adjusted them as needed. Being in practice now for well over a decade, I see the same thing to this very day.
I remember my first patient when I was in school, nearly 20 years ago. She was a 3 year old with chronic ear infections. After I adjusted her (as a student mind you) she responded amazingly and got off the recurrent antibiotics as a result!
Why, generally speaking, do we see people respond well to chiropractic care? The basic chiropractic approach, as it related to ear infections, would be summarized as follows:
- The muscles surrounding the Eustachian tube are influenced by the C1-C4 neurolgoy.
- Vertebral subluxations at the level of the occiput and C1-C4 can cause hypertonicity of those muscles; i.e. spastic, tight muscles that are over stimulated.
- In turn, this can affect the size of the Eustachian tube and, thus, prevent drainage.
- This is why I (and countless doctors of chiropractic over the years) have observed how specific, gentle adjustments in the upper cervical region can cause a relaxation of the musculature and allow the ears to drain naturally. I have even seen fluid drain in patients often the day of an adjustment!
In my opinion, while there is no specific chiropractic adjustment “for” any one condition, there may be no “one condition” that shows such an immediate positive response to adjustments than ear infections. While I will never tell a patient to refrain from taking antibiotics if that is what their medical doctor has recommended, it’s exciting for me to see so many people achieve better health through chiropractic – and ultimately be prescribed fewer drugs long-term as a result of better health in the first place. I feel very strongly that we all have a job to do in educating others that there are viable alternatives.
Those of us in natural health care have often fielded criticism that “correlation does not mean causation” – and that there is no “proof” that chiropractic adjustments, nutritional and non-medical interventions provide any benefit to the patient. Truthfully, except in very extreme cases (not your typical childhood ear infection) there is little “proof” to support the rampant use and overuse of antibiotics that is now causing other problems. And, notably, the argument of correlation could be applied to just about any medical intervention, as well – particularly antibiotics.
As we have seen above, there are not only case studies and case series suggesting that chiropractic care can help children with otitis media, there are clinical trials as well!
The bottom line is this:
More and more people are giving natural solutions a try. Chances are, you too would respond wonderfully. If you need medical attention, seek it out and keep in close communication with a doctor you trust, and make sure that you don’t take drugs needlessly.