Pedriatric Health: Ear Infections In Kids

My wife and I have been in private practice specializing in and helping children and their families for the past 11 years.  Of all the commonly seen issues that happen with our pediatric patients, ear infections is probably the most common.  So to help with things you as a parent can do to help your child, we have written up information and tips that you can take and use to help prevent, comfort, or correct possible infections.

Picture of kid screaming holding his ears because of an ear infectionEar infections are a very important topic because this is commonly the condition that starts children down the antibiotic super highway, of which there is (it seems) no return.  No parent forgets the trip to the doctor after having their child (especially their first) wake up in the middle of the night screaming and clawing at the side of their head while sweating with fever.  Not a pretty picture.  But are the antibiotics and medical intervention the only option for you as parents when it comes to childhood ear infections?? The easy, quick answer is “No”.

I want to start off by clarifying that not all Ear Infections are actually “infected ears” or “infections”.  “How can that be?”, you might ask.  Well, with children, their eustachian tube (ear canal) is not slanted down like an adult’s.  Their canal is straight across or horizontal, making it hard for your baby to get much help fromgravity to move the fluid out of the lymph nodes and the ears, into the throat and out of their body.   The problem comes when fluid and congestion build up in the lymph nodes in the sides of the neck and throat and cannot be moved or flushed out of the child’s body.  That fluid has to go somewhere so if the fluid can’t go back “down”, then it will frequently back “up” into the child’s eustachian tube and cause fluid pressure on the back of the ear drum.  This pressure will cause swelling and irritation (pain) just like an infection, and if left un-addressed long enough can progress into an infection.  The problem though, is that most pediatricians are medicating the kids they see before they actually know whether or not they actually have an infection.

“Take 2 and call me in the morning…..”

For those of you who have gone through this in the past and taken your child into the pediatrician because they are obviously in pain, acting funny, and/or pulling at their ears and the doc looked in their ears with the otoscope and said “Yep, it’s red, little Johnny’s got an ear infection.  I’ll write you a script for an antibiotic.”  Think about that for a minute…….how did the doctor know just off of the color of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) that your child had an infection?!?  They didn’t.  Actually, the only way they can truly diagnose an infection in the ear is if they do a swab of the ear and actually culture the area.  Then they can see whether or not your child actually has an infection.  If they don’t do that then the problem more than likely is fluid build-up behind the ear drum.  Or the area may simply be irritated (red, swollen and/or painful) due to teething because the ears are close to the gum/teeth/mouth area and often react too when this area is under stress.  Now of course, if your child is running a raging fever and the side of their face and head are on fire and the ear is oozing a colorful pus,  then yes, you could definitely say they had an infection.  But for the majority of children going into the pediatrician’s office for discomfort, sleep issues or whatever the parent noticed lately, the problem isn’t necessarily an infection.  The reason for the antibiotic prescription without a true infection diagnosis is so that if your child is having an underlying infection then they can affect that with the drug.  But the less you have to medicate your child the better and if they don’t have an actual infection there are other options for you.

So what do you do if your child is fussy and having issues with one or both of their ears??  Are there things you can do besides medication to help them feel better and help the fluid move out of the eustachian tube?? The quick answer:  ABSOLUTELY!  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation off of their research says that the best approach for an ear infection is “watch and wait”.  They don’t even recommend routine antibiotics for this condition, and say that most heal at the same rate whether you take meds or simply wait and do nothing!

Picture of a kid using a cold laser therapy for ear infection

Must….reduce….pressure!!

So what the heck are you supposed to do if your child is NOT infected but has issues with building up too much fluid in their ears???

The first order of business to help your child overcome a possible problem with fluid building up in the ear or with a possible ear infection is that we need to help their body get rid of the extra fluid building up in their ear canal.  There are a few different things to help their little bodies in this case:

1.  Moist heat: One of the best things that helps with circulation is moist heat.  Taking a wash cloth and wetting it with warm water and placing it on the side of the neck and side of the head that is irritated helps to increase circulation to the ear and the ear canal.  Make sure and not only do the cloth over the ear but down the side of the neck as well to help drain the lymph nodes in the sides and front of the neck.

2. Massage: Using infant massage helps to move the fluid out of the lymph nodes and out of the ears.  Using only enough pressure to dent the skin, start your massage behind the ear where you feel your child’s bony prominence (mastoid process).  Start there and work your way down the side of the neck and slightly in front of the neck with long, gentle strokes to help move fluid out of the lymph nodes.  If you feel a swollen area as you’re massaging down the side of the neck then stay on that area and do light massage in tiny circles around that area.

3. Cold Laser Therapy: One of the many things cold laser therapy helps with is circulation.  So using the laser on the area and over the ear will help to move the fluid along and reduce the inflammation.  Read more on the type of laser we use here.

4. Chiropractic Adjustments: The lymph nodes need properly functioning muscles to contract with your baby’s head movements in order to flush out lymph fluid and congestion that pools in the area.  If the bones in the top of your baby’s neck become restricted (due to birth, or any other type of physical stressor), the muscles around that area cannot contract and work correctly.  If the muscles don’t contract perfectly, then the body has a hard time flushing out the fluid in the ear canals.  The gentle adjustments to this area help to reduce spasming and re-establish normal motion to a restricted area, which offers tremendous relief when you child has too much fluid in their ear/ears.  Adjustments also boost the immune system and help the body to function optimally.  Read more research on chiropractic and ear infections here.

Comfort measures….

So if your baby is exhibiting signs of a possible infection, OR if they’re not necessarily infected, but are having a lot of pain, there are other things to do for your baby:

1. Garlic and Mullein Drops: A company named “Herb Pharm” has a product called “Garlic and Mullein” drops that you can use to help with inflammation and pain in the ear.  It smells REALLY garlic-y, but it really does help to reduce the pain and swelling.  You can also make your own garlic drops to use in the ear by crushing a couple garlic cloves and adding that to warm water to put into the ear.

Picture of a natural garlic oil ear infection remedy

2. Warm olive oil: Taking a tablespoon and using steam over the stove, you can heat up some olive oil and then use either a medicine dropper or a cotton ball to drop the olive oil into the irritated ear.  This helps to soothe the ear and reduce the swelling.

3. Colloidal Silver: Putting colloidal silver in the ear will help to kill any bacteria that may be congregating in the ear canal.  Killing off these bacteria will help to reduce the swelling which will help to reduce the overall pain in the ear.

4. Rock Salt: What?!  I know, I know….before you click to another page, just keep reading.  You can buy “rock salt” at most grocery stores.  Put some rock salt in the bottom of a sock and either microwave (if you have one….hopefully you don’t!) or bake the sock until it is a little more than warm.  Place the sock over your child’s ear on the side that is infected and it will help decrease the tenderness, improve circulation and pull fluid from the canal.

5. Moist Heat:  on top of helping with circulation, the heat really helps with comfort.

6. Nursing:  Make sure you nurse often and on demand during a situation where your child’s ears are bothering them to help provide comfort, extra circulation support and so that if there is a possible infection occuring, you are giving your child all the antibodies they need to fight off the invader!

What about their immune system?? Won’t that help?

The other thing that is really important is making sure and boosting up your child’s immune system during this time.  Here are a few really important immune boosters to make sure you are either taking (if you’re breastfeeding) or giving directly to your child:

1. Probiotics: The stomach and digestive tract plays a HUGE role in immune function.  There’s actually no way to have a properly functioning immune system if your digestive tract is a mess.  Probiotics are the good bacteria you are supposed to have in your system that helps to regulate, support, and protect your system.  Make sure that you buy a probiotic that is NOT cultured off of dairy.  Many of them are so be sure and look at the back.  The dairy that is in the probiotic can be an allergen that limits the function of the probiotic.  We have a good quality one in our office made by Innate Choice.

2. Thymex: This product is made by Standard Process and is a thymus extract supplement that helps to boost up immunity by stimulating your thymus gland.  The thymus gland is responsible for producing T-Lymphocytes which are responsible for directing the entire immune response.  This product is very affordable and works really well.  Contact my office or me directly for dosing.

3. Omega-3 fats: In order for your body to heal you need the proper amount of cholesterol in your system.  In order to build the cholesterol you need for healing you need proper fats to use.  Taking a sufficient amount of omega-3 fats (fish oil, flax oil, borage oil) is vital in helping the body re-build and boost your immune system.  Again, our favorite company for these is Innate Choice.

4. Vitamin D: Children should be getting 500 I.U.’s of Vit D per day.  This supplement is a great immune booster and helps to support the respiratory system.

5. Zinc: This is the mineral of the immune system.  If you or your child is deficient, it can really slow down the immune response.

Don’t forget about the diet!!

During a time when your child is fighting irritation in the ear, make sure and watch their diet, here are some tips:

1. Eliminate or Reduce their sugar intake: sugar will reduce their immune system function, the exact OPPOSITE of what you want to happen.

2. No caffeine: For the mom if you are nursing, or for your child if they are older. Caffeine breaks down body tissue and reduces the immune response as well.  Plus it destroys the digestive tract….a huge part of the immune system.  DRINK MORE WATER.

3. No dyes or artificial sweeteners: these are potent neurotoxins and will limit either yours or your child’s body’s ability to heal.

4. Increase protein: this will help to stabilize the blood sugar and speed up healing.

kidsveggies5.  Reduce or Eliminate dairy products. Dairy has naturally occurring sugars in it, and it causes the body to increase mucous production; therefore, it can contribute to swelling of the ear tissues and increase in fluid.

6.  Regulate Gluten:  Gluten is a major allergenic food so if you have not taken gluten out of yours (if nursing) or your child’s diet then around this time you want to do that.

7. Increase fruits and vegetables:  You want as man “alive” foods in your system as you can to reduce inflammation in both yours and your baby’s body.

Hopefully that gives you a few tools to use to help your child if he/she has problems with their ears.

Give us feedback on the products that have helped your children the most, we’ll research them and add them to the list!!

Dr. JB

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