EAR INFECTIONS (Otitis Media)
Otitis media is an inflammation and infection of the middle ear (the membrane-lined chamber behind the ear drum). It is often related to an inflammation or infection of the throat or Eustachian tube (the passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat).
Under normal circumstances, the Eustachian tube helps to equalize pressure between the throat and the middle ear. However, when the opening of the Eustachian tube is inflamed or obstructed (usually because of allergies or a throat infection), the normal ventilation of the middle ear is disrupted, leading to pressure changes and an accumulation of fluid inside the middle ear. Bacteria travel up the Eustachian tube from the throat and multiply in this accumulated fluid, resulting in a middle ear infection. The most common infecting bacteria include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis. In many cases, otitis media is caused by viruses.
Otitis media is currently the most common illness in American children and the second most common illness in the general population (adults and children combined). Before age three, approximately 85% of children will have at least one episode of this infection, and 50% will have at least two. After age 6, episodes of otitis media become much less frequent, possibly because of the child’s maturing immune system and normal growth-related changes in the ear and throat.
Inside the middle ear, three ossicles (tiny bones) normally conduct sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear, where they are converted into the nerve impulses for “sound.” In patients with otitis media, however, inflammation and infection interfere with this normal mechanism for sound conduction, causing decreased hearing. Infection-related pressure changes and fluid accumulation also produce significant ear pain. Other symptoms may include fever; general body discomfort; (in children) rubbing or pulling the ears; and (in infants) vomiting and diarrhea.
Because otitis media is often related to a throat infection, symptoms of otitis media may begin a few days after a sore throat, with or without nasal symptoms (stuffiness, runny nose).
Ear Infections in Children
Acute Otitis Media. Acute otitis media is an infection in the middle ear that causes an inflammation behind the tympanic membrane. Often it develops a few days after a cold or a flu. Middle ear infections are extremely common in children but are infrequent in adults. In children, ear infections often recur, particularly if they first develop in early infancy.
Otitis Media with Effusion (OME). Otitis media with effusion (OME) is a form of middle ear inflammation commonly called “glue ear”, in which effusion (a sticky fluid) builds up in the middle ear; it can affect one or both ears. It is not painful and the only clue that it is present is a feeling of stuffiness in the ears. Children who are susceptible to OME can have frequent episodes for more than half of their first three years of life. The episodes tend to last six to ten weeks when both ears are affected and five to six weeks when one ear is afflicted with OME.
Since an ear infection can be quite serious, it is necessary that any individual with symptoms of acute ear infection be seen by a physician.
Ear infections are extremely common in children under the age of six years.
Acute otitis media is usually preceded by an upper-respiratory infection or allergy.
Only forty-two percent of myringotomy tube insertions have been judged as being appropriate.
A number of well-designed studies have demonstrated that there are no significant differences in the clinical course of acute otitis media when conventional treatments were compared with a placebo.
The primary risk factors for otitis media are day care attendance, wood burning stoves, parental smoking (or exposure to other second-hand smoke), and not being breast-fed.
Recurrent ear infection is strongly associated with early bottle-feeding, while breast feeding (for a minimum of four months) has a protective effect.
The role of allergy as the major cause of chronic otitis media has been firmly established in the medical literature.
Elimination of food allergens has been shown to produce a dramatic effect in the treatment of chronic otitis media in over ninety percent of children in some studies.
The key factor in the natural approach to chronic ear infections in children appears to be the recognition and elimination of allergies, particularly food allergies. Since it is usually not possible to determine the exact allergen during an acute attack, the most common allergenic foods should be eliminated from the diet: milk and dairy products, eggs, wheat, corn, oranges, and peanut butter. The diet should also eliminate concentrated simple carbohydrates (sugar, honey, dried fruit, concentrated fruit juice, etc.) since they inhibit the immune system. These simple dietary recommendations will bring relief to most children in a matter of days.
Measures should also be taken to enhance the immune system. Supplementing the diet with a good children’s multiple-vitamin-and-mineral formula is a good foundation. Deficiencies of any of a number of essential nutrients increase the likelihood of infection. Of particular importance appears to be the trace minerals, such as zinc, selenium, and manganese. Of course, vitamin C and the B vitamins are also critically important.
In addition to avoiding allergens and enhancing the immune system, locally applied heat is often very helpful in reducing discomfort. It can be applied as a hot pack, with warm oil (especially olive oil. These treatments help reduce the pressure in the middle ear and promote fluid drainage.
1. Pre-Disposing Factors:
a. Food allergy/sensitivity, especially diary products.
b. Adrenal hypo-function.
c. Bacterial or viral infection.
d. Diets high in refined carbohydrates.
2. Dietary Suggestions:
a. Eliminate all dairy products, gluten containing grains, canned, processed and frozen foods.
b. Use only pure water for drinking and cooking (no well water or water containing fluoride or chlorine).
c. Eliminate all hydrogenated fats and oils. Eat only extra virgin olive oil, fish oils and coconut oil as your only sources of dietary oil. Coconut oil is especially health as an anti-infective.
d. Increase raw foods and protein.
1. AQUEOUS MULTI-PLUS – 1 teaspoonful, 3 times daily after meals.
2. MIXED ASCORBATE POWDER – 1/8 teaspoonful, (dissolved in diluted apple or grape juice), 3 times daily after meals.
3. I A G – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonful, (dissolved in diluted apple or grape juice) 2 times daily after meals.
4. 21ST CENTURY HOMEOPATHIC #2 – LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE – 1/2 capful, twice daily.
Treating Ear Infections
Summer has unofficially started and one of the joys of warm weather is swimming. Unfortunately, public pools and swimming holes can contribute to ear infections. In fact, close contact in any setting where infections can be passed along, such as school or childcare, could be a problem for those who are sensitive or whose immune function is compromised. And in allergy season, many people are in that category.
Otitis media, an inflammation of the inner ear, is common in young children. Swimming is not the only culprit that produces the painful disorder. It might be associated with other upper respiratory problems including hay fever. Flu and Strep (Streptococcus pneumoniae) are common infectious agents. Even winter irritations such as a wood-burning stove, or related air-borne irritants such as exposure to cigarette smoke can predispose a child to inflamed ears. These conditions disrupt the normal function of the Eustachian tube, which affects drainage between the middle ear and the throat.
Conventional treatments are palliative, meaning they seek to reduce the immediate suffering but do not provide a true cure. They include antibiotics, ear drops, antihistamines, analgesics and even surgery. Many of these further stress the immune system and contribute to a worsened state of health. The ear infections tend to recur because the root causes have not been identified and treated.
Natural medicine for otitis media includes changes in diet and lifestyle (often the responsibility of an adult for the well-being of the child), homeopathics and natural plant medicines. A word of caution: Before you use any eardrops, be certain that the eardrum has not ruptured, an entirely different condition for which drops are not appropriate and can cause inflammation. Having ruled that out, however, natural eardrops that contain garlic, mullein, goldenseal and echinacea are popular remedies. These same herbs can be taken as supplements. Goldenseal is nature’s antibiotic and is gentler on the system than those prescribed by conventional doctors. Oregon grape is another natural antimicrobial. Echinacea is a good combination with goldenseal and supports immune function. Mullein is helpful in reducing allergic reactions.
There appears to be a correlation between allergies and ear infections. The thymus gland must function well for optimal health and that includes freedom from both allergy and infection. You might improve immune status with thymus extracts and hence help reduce susceptibility to infection. (For young children, consult with your health care practitioner.) If you are a new parent, you might want to consider the importance of breast-feeding for building natural immunity. Studies show that breast-fed infants have significantly more developed thymus glands compared to babies raised on formula.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are helpful to reduce the effects of histamines that are secreted by the body during an allergic episode. Zinc may also be helpful but should always be taken with food. (Otherwise it might cause nausea.)
Also be on the lookout for food allergies, which are frequently an undiagnosed problem when ear infections are common. Consider cow1s milk, wheat, corn, peanut, soy, tomato and children. Eliminate one or more of these from the diet and see if there is a difference. You can reintroduce these foods one at a time as a test (if symptoms return, that confirms the allergy). Or reintroduce them as an occasional food once the inflammation has cleared and the immune system has had a chance to improve.
Since overall health is affected by our nutritional status (and nutritional status is related to intestinal health), it1s a good idea to be sure that you have plenty of probiotics?friendly bacteria?in the intestinal tract. You can supplement with acidophilus, especially if you have taken conventional antibiotics, which kill both good and bad bacteria. You can take such supplements for three or four weeks.
Homeopathic remedies for earaches often include belladonna at a potency of 30C, which helps soothe red eardrums. There are many combination remedies available at your health food or vitamin store.
Some physicians are suggesting the use of humidifiers for those prone to otitis media. . The body secretes immunoglobulin A (sIgA), which is able to coat the respiratory membranes better when moist.
For more information about otitis media, you can contact:
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
One Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314