Combating Childhood Ear Infections

Every winter season, there are moms who tell me about how they had to start a round of antibiotics for an ear infection their young child just acquired.  Since becoming a mother myself a few winter seasons ago, this has compounded even more being around mother’s groups, kid’s groups, daycares, preschools, etc.  I have always known about this common problem, but I never knew just how many parents were so quickly (even automatically) resorting to powerful chemicals in their young children.  I believe the answer to this lies in a lack of information in tandem with many one-sided sources.  The health field may be my profession, but to millions of other parents out there, their passions and work lives are not in the same field.  It is for this reason I have decided to write this article to help educate and show the risks involved, a few of the numerous options available, and most importantly, the different choices you have!  Did you know that eight out of ten children have had or will have an ear infection?  As discomforting as it can be, ear infections are a very common thing for children to experience.  Many parents believe that ear infection equals antibiotics, period.  In most cases however, it is exactly the opposite.

Upon the first signs of symptoms, a common place a lot of parents I know go to first for answers is WebMD.  However, when I looked at WebMD, I saw that “60% of childhood antibiotic prescriptions are for otitis media (ear infections).”  Looking deeper, my research into this topic got even more real:

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report regarding the trouble of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for kids. The CDC found that doctors were unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics for children more than half (50%!) of the time, most cases being for upper respiratory infections (colds, coughs, ear infections, sinusitis, and sore throats).

Erroneous antibiotic prescriptions are the main cause of antibiotic resistance, which is a world-wide public health dilemma. Further, medical science is beginning to realize that pediatric antibiotic exposure is not benign, and leads to asthma, eczema, and the development of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease in later years.

Other ordinary therapies prescribed for common kids’ infections, for example, Tylenol and ibuprofen carry the probable risks for more serious side effects, such as the development of asthma and even gastrointestinal bleeding. The over-usage of Tylenol is among the top causes of liver failure in America. While antibiotics and other meds can save a life when needed, when over-prescribed and misused, the consequences can be heart stopping (literally).

It is proven that antibiotics are many times handed out unnecessarily for common infections because doctors believe that parents expect these meds.  Another reason doctors prescribe antibiotics so quickly is because they are afraid that if a rare or misdiagnosed infection comes up, litigation will be waiting for them around the next corner.  There are also other common problems here.  To begin, parents are accustomed to doctors prescribing the antibiotics. Additionally, these parents worry, and they do not want to stand by and witness their children suffering.  No parent wants to see that.  It is for these reasons and others, I’ve convinced many parents not to follow through with antibiotic prescriptions, and the results could not have been better.

“Approximately 80% of kids with acute otitis media (ear infections) get better without antibiotics!”

Here is the truth:

  • You generally do not have to treat a fever. The body has incredible fighting mechanisms working to purposely produce the fever so the body will be inhabitable for an infection to continue to survive.  Comfort measures, lot of fluids, and an aligned body are the most important treatments for most kids.
  • Due to viral infections, antibiotics do not treat coughs and are almost never specified for coughs due to bronchitis, colds, etc.   In both cases, antibiotics are regularly over-prescribed.
  • What is the most common reason for an appointment with a pediatrician?  Ear infections.  Additionally, ear infections are right at the top in terms of conditions leading to the over-prescription of antibiotics in children.
  • “Approximately 80% of kids with acute otitis media (ear infections) get better without antibiotics!”

Now, all of this is not just a natural healer’s perspective.  

Around the same time as the CDC release, the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics published new “watching and waiting” guidelines for doctors involved with non-severe cases of otitis media (ear infections) since the risks, side effects, and problems involving antibiotics in most cases outweigh those of a common ear infection.

I am by no means downplaying the seriousness of an ear infection in your child.  Nor am I suggesting you ignore your child’s ear infection or simply “watch and wait.”  In fact, the Mayo Clinic says:

“Long-term problems related to ear infections – persistent fluids in the middle ear, persistent infections or frequent infections – can cause hearing problems and other serious complications.”

So what is a parent to do?

Left unchecked, ear infections can cause permanent hearing damage in your child for the rest of their lives among other serious complications.  But, with the treatment of antibiotics, Ibuprofen, and Tylenol, comes a whole host of other side effects, risks, and dangers such as: diarrhea, rash, fungal diaper rash, oral thrush, vomiting, asthma, eczema, development of inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis, and even later in your child’s life, Crohn’s disease.  So again, what is a parent to do?  Make a choice between permanent hearing damage in your child or gastrointestinal bleeding?

The most important thing is that a parent knows about the choices they have and the right to make those choices for their family.

It is my strongest opinion that there is a place and time for antibiotics with children.  The moment a child develops a common ear infection is probably not the place or time yet.  Letting an ear infection fester unchecked would also not be a responsible approach.  The clear answer with the least amount of risk to the health and well being of the one you love is an active natural approach with the oversight of a professional.  A great resource called Pathways says:

“Regardless of the choices you make, the chiropractic approach will improve your child’s inherent ability to function. Doesn’t it make sense to have your child function at an optimal level for healing no matter how (or if ) you choose to treat? We will assess your child’s spine, make the necessary adjustments to improve nerve system function and offer lifestyle suggestions to reduce nerve system stress for your child. We will also support any decision you make in your choice to treat the infection or not. This is your right as a parent, and we stand behind informed choice.”

In addition to full functionality with chiropractic, natural essential oils (in this case, basil oil mixed with a carrier oil and rubbed into the external portion of the ear) can have a profound impact on a child fighting an infection like this.  There are also dozens of other natural remedies that have very powerful, safe, and sometimes instant results in a child.

Navigating an unfamiliar area like “natural remedies” can seem daunting while dealing with work, school, and an ear infection with your little one, but this is my passion and profession, so ask me about it.  Whole Foods and other local stores even have entire sections dedicated to this with people (who know what they are talking about) on standby to help you.  It’s an easy, safe approach that works the high majority of the time in children (and adults).

In the very rare cases where this approach isn’t working, that is usually the right time to nuke your child’s biotics.

Remember, the biotics in the body are a healthy thing.  Probiotics are an extremely healthy thing.  When a person is sick, some of the biotics in the body turn bad.  A fever kills off the bad biotics leaving you healthy again, but antibiotics destroy ALL biotics in the body, good or bad.  In a health sense, antibiotics are the nuclear option in wartime—a last resort to win, not a first one.

Thanks for reading!

~  Dr. Monica Egan
Monarch Chiropractic
250 Bel Marin Keys Blvd. Suite D1
Novato, CA 94949

~  To learn more about chiropractic, click here

~  To learn more about essential oils, click here

Seven Prevention Tips:

 Here are seven helpful ways I found to help prevent ear infections in children:

1. Chiropractic care

It is proven that chiropractic adjustments to the skull and neck can improve middle ear drainage and decrease ear infections. Chiropractic is also known to reduce the number of ear infections, if they are continuously reoccurring.  In some cases chiropractic can put a complete stop to the reoccurring ear infections all together.

2. Eat more raw fruits and vegetables

These can greatly boost your child’s immune system to help fight off and prevent infections.  Juicing raw fruits and vegetables is another yummy approach and a great interactive way to get your kids to enjoy getting those important nutrients they need.

3. Minimizing side effects of antibiotics

These side effects are listed in the above article.  Try to avoid all of these side effects.

4. Keep the nose clear

When a runny nose and cold start, do your best to keep the nose clear by using steam, saline nose drops, and suctioning.

 5. Breastfeeding

There is no doubt whatsoever that prolonged breastfeeding lowers your child’s chances of getting ear infections.

6. Echinacea

This is an herb which can safely and effectively boost the immune system.

 7. Feed your baby upright

Lying down while bottle-feeding can cause the milk to irritate the Eustachian tube which can contribute to ear infections.


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