Question #4: When it Comes to Ear Infections, Are Antibiotics My Only Choice?
Ear infections are the most common reason for the prescription of antibiotics. But new research shows that up to 80% of uncomplicated ear infections will resolve within 4-7 days without antibiotics (This article summarizes the JAMA paper). In short, antibiotics are not required for healing.
What Causes an Ear Infection?
To answer this, we start with a little anatomy. The ear is divided into three parts. The middle ear space is where infections typically occur and is attached to the back of nose through the Eustachian tube. It is the angle of these tubes in infants and toddlers that make it easy for bacteria to find its way into the middle ear and cause an infection. As children grow, the Eustachian tubes become longer and more vertical, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive.
When a child gets a cold, mucus abounds. Thanks to the Eustachian tube passageway, the chance for bacteria growth and migration increase as the sinuses and middle ear both produce mucus to as a line of defense. Pus is also produced and is what causes ear pain by pushing on the sensitive ear drum. Chronic ear infections occur when the fluid in the middle ear is not able to drain properly.
Garlic Oil and Colloidal Silver are both holistic approaches to ear (or any) infections. Both are considered anti-bacteria, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. Essentially, they are nature’s all-purpose cleaners. As with any new regiment, it is best to consult a health professional when starting something new (For example, our midwife first introduced us to colloidal silver). This is not recommended if their ear is draining.
Chiropractic is another great option. One cause for poor drainage may be a misalignment or loss of motion (subluxation) of the upper neck/head. This commonly occurs in the birthing process, learning to crawl or walk, and just generally being a kid. Chiropractors restore the alignment and motion to these areas through safe and effective adjustments. The three biggest reasons I see children in my office (in no particular order) are ear infections, digestive distress, and wellness care. We see children recover from chronic ear infections and improve their immune system health on a regular basis.
Pain management with a little one can be difficult. The pain associated with ear infections can be decreased by applying a warm compress to the ear. Swallowing will help to relieve some of the pressure (and upping the fluids is always good), so increase their nursing or water intake. Keeping their head elevated while they sleep will also help. I’m typically not an advocate of medication because it masks symptoms rather than addressing the problem. However, if your child is in extreme discomfort, acetaminophen is also an option.
Why Not Try an Antibiotic?
There are several reasons that I tend to avoid antibiotics when possible. The first, as with any medication, is the possible side effects. Rash, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting, and allergic reactions are the most common for the penicillin group typically used for ear infections.
Resistance to antibiotics is another area of consideration. Continued use of antibiotics on a large scale is producing more antibiotic-resistant “super bugs”. For an individual, the use of repetitive antibiotics or antibiotics of increased strength can cause that same resistance within your body.
Another reason to minimize antibiotic use is to protect the good bacteria in your body. I see patients that have used antibiotics somewhat regularly and now have digestive issues. That’s because the good bacteria that live symbiotically in your digestive tract and help with the normal digestive processes is attacked just the same as the bacteria the cause infections. I always recommend a quality probiotic to replenish the good bacteria after any bout with antibiotics.
Let’s be clear: Antibiotics are life-saving medicine, but if we overuse them now, they may not be effective when they are truly needed. Research points to the fact that over 80% of ear infections will resolve themselves if we are patient and let the body do what it was designed to do – HEAL. In fact, new studies are suggesting that using antibiotics may contribute to an increase in future ear infections (food for thought here).
Prevention is (Always) The Best Medicine!
Here are 8 steps that you can take as parents to reduce the likelihood of ear infections. (I’m happy to say we follow this list and our 2 ½ year old son has never had an ear infection, or antibiotic for that matter.)
- Breastfeeding - Medical literature supports the claim that prolonged breastfeeding lowers your child’s chances of getting ear infections. Also, infants are held during breast-feeding in a position that allows the Eustachian tubes to function well.
- Feeding Position -Changing the position of a bottle-fed baby is also helpful. If fed lying, the milk can irritate the Eustachian tube which can contribute to ear infections. Holding you baby at an angle while nursing or bottle feeding helps prevent Eustachian tube irritation.
- Chiropractic Care – Studies show that chiropractic adjustments can improve middle ear drainage and decrease ear infections. It’s a gentle, safe, and effective avenue to overall health.
- Prevent Colds Before They Start – Do all the things you already do to keep your little one from getting sick. Wash hands often, get plenty of sleep, eat a well-rounded diet, and keep your nervous system free from interference.
- Get the Snot Out - If a runny nose and cold start, try to clear the nose as best you can by using steam, saline nose drops, and suctioning. Keeping that mucus moving out will decrease the ability of bacteria to grow and put up a fight.
- Avoid Cigarette Smoke - Just one more reason to keep the kids away from cigarette smoke (did we need another?). There is strong evidence that smoking irritates a baby’s nasal passage. That irritation can lead to Eustachian tube problems and an increased risk of infection.
- Eat More Raw Fruits and Veggies – Do you ever notice how I slip this in to every post? Fruits and Veggies will boost the immune system and give your child what they need to fight infection. If you have a picky eater, think about a quality supplement.
- Decrease or Eliminate Dairy – Food sensitivity and allergies can also be a factor in ear infections. One of the big culprits is diary. Not only can it be an allergen, it is also a great mucus maker. We want to eliminate dairy to improve digestion, boost the immune system, and cut mucus production. (Check out Question #2 for more details about ditching the dairy).
How do we as parents provide the best opportunity for health in our children? Ask questions. Understand the answers. Make the decisions that are right for you and your family. In the end, the best advice that can be given is to lead by example. Strive for health in your life; in turn, they will learn by example. Give them the opportunity to grow in health! This is question 4 of 5 – Check back later this week for the next installment.