Ear infections (otitis media) are one of the most common childhood ailments. Around 90% of all children will suffer from ear infections at some stage before they start school. Before you start asking for antibiotics, find out how you can prevent and treat ear infections naturally.Ear infections can be a random occurrence or can be chronic for may children. Most ear infections stem from a bout of the common cold. Mucous from the upper respiratory tracts travels to the narrow Eustachian tubes creates the perfect environment for an infection to take hold.
For those with children that have chronic ear infections, then further investigation into why this is occurring is warranted. For these kids, we would look into diet, lifestyle and immune health. While sometimes it can be due to structural issues making the ears more prone to infection, it most often is due to immune systems inability to fight infection.
Ear infections have been on the rise in the past decade, in line with the rise of allergies and asthma. We have to question why this is occurring, and most likely it is due to environmental exposures, poor nutrition, depleted microbiome and stress.
So is it a problem that children are getting recurrent ear infections? Well, yes it is. Recurrent ear infections can lead to scarring on the eardrums, poor achievements in school due to a lack of hearing, and for those using antibiotics, altered gut microbiota and reduced immune health. In addition to this, the use of antibiotics in the first two years of life is linked to an increase in the incidences of asthma.
Antibiotics and Ear Infections.
Studies have confirmed that the use of antibiotics to treat ear infections is usually unnecessary and is contributing to the worldwide crisis of antibiotic resistance. Firstly, most ear infections are a viral infection, rendering antibiotics pointless. Doctors will often prescribe antibiotics in the hope of preventing a secondary bacterial infection. Antibiotics should never be used as preventative medicine. Most doctors agree that a standard ear infection will clear on its own over the course of several days.
However, if the infection stems from swimming in contaminated water, or there is discharge coming from the ear, please consult with our doctor as antibiotics may be warranted in these cases.
Preventing Ear Infections
Boost your child’s immune system
Building up your child’s immune system is the best way to prevent any type of infection from taking hold. The best way to do this is through a diet that is robust in nutrients and is void of foods that deplete the immune system.
Ensuring that your child eats a diet that has 4-6 serves of vegetable per day and 1-2 pieces of fruit will set them on the right path. A child’s serve is considered to be around ½ cup or 1 piece of fruit or vegetable. Include a piece of good quality protein at each meal, this can be animal or plant-based. Adding in high-quality fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, oily fish, grass-fed butter or avocado at least twice a day. Healthy carbohydrates should be included at every meal to support their high energy lifestyle. This includes oats, quinoa, rice, sweet potato, white potato, corn, spelt, millet to name a few.
In addition to what you include in your child’s diet, it is important to look at what you DON’T include. Avoiding processed foods, fizzy drinks, refined grain products such as white bread, cakes, muffins and pastries all support the immune system. The reason is that these foods contain virtually no nutrients. In fact, they will often rob the body of nutrients to metabolise them and they fill your child up so that they are less likely to eat a healthy meal. I understand that this can be very hard to do, especially with the pester-power of children. A great way to encourage a healthy diet is to have a ‘healthy home’. This means that all the food you have at home is healthy and high in nutrients. When the kids are out, or at birthday parties, then you can relax the rules a little and let them enjoy some of these foods. Complete avoidance of ‘treat-like’ foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food leading to secretive eating or binge eating.
If you feel that you can’t quite get enough of the right type of foods into your child diet, then consider supplementing them with these nutrients that have a proven benefit for children’s health.
- Vitamin D (400-800UI of D3). Cod liver oil supplements can be a great source of vitamin D, plus you will get the added benefit of vitamin A and essential fatty acids.
- Multi strain probiotic (around 8 different strains at 109strength)
- Multivitamin with zinc.
Treat a cold at the first sign
Ear infections often occur from catching a cold. AT the first sign of a sniffy nose remove WHEAT, DAIRY, SUGAR and JUICE from their diet. Sugar is known to suppress the immune system, reducing the bodies ability to fight the infection. Wheat and dairy products may contribute to mucus production in some children, enhancing the breeding ground for pathogens. Adding in some Elderberry syrup or Echinacea drops will help to boost the immune system. You can find these supplements at most health food stores, however, it is best to consult your naturopath or herbalist to ensure that the product you are using contains the therapeutically active parts of the plant.
Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke
This point doesn’t need too much explanation. Just as smoke exposure is dangerous to adults, it is even more so for children. As a parent or caregiver, it is your responsibility to avoid this exposure to your children.
You might be surprised just how stressed our children can get. Today they are living in a busy and hectic environment and are more likely to be away from the family home for longer periods of time. School-aged children can begin to feel the pressure from bullies and academic expectations. Taking the time help your child recognise when they are feeling stressed and giving them tools to manage this is setting them up with practical life long skills. Teaching them some breathing exercises, mediation and yoga/stretching techniques will be very supportive. Please don’t underestimate the effect that stress has on both our own health and our children’s health.
Breastfed babies are half as likely to develop ear infections compared to formula-fed babies. Exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age, and ideally, up the 12 months of age can dramatically reduce the chance of infection. It is also good to remember when feeding baby, to hold her at an upright 45-degree angle, rather than lying flat. This reduces the chance of milk getting into the back of the throat up into the immature Eustachian tubes.
Treating Ear Infections
So the ear infection has set in…what to do now.
- As mentioned above, stop wheat, dairy, sugar and juice.
- Continue with the Echinacea and elderberry
- Take 250mg vitamin C, 3-5 times per day
- Mullein ear drops. This is a wonderful traditional remedy for ear infections. It will help to treat the infection and will soothe any associated discomfort. You can find this extract of the herb mullein in your local health food store.
Lastly, if your child does appear to have an ear infection, please take to your chosen health professional to get a correct diagnosis. Understand that you have the right to express to them that you are happy to take the ‘wait and watch’ approach before considering antibiotics. It is your child, and ultimately your choice as to how you manage their healthcare.
A note on chronic ear infections and glue ear…
These conditions need a thorough consultation with your naturopath to establish the root cause of the problem. With a little time and dedication, you can restore your child’s ear health.