Naturopathic solutions for preventing and treating ear infections in children.
Ear infections are amongst the most common illnesses affecting children and infants today (4). Anatomically, the ear canal of children and infants is more horizontal than those of adults, making them more prone to fluid accumulation in the middle ear. When excess fluid accumulates in response to foreign invaders, or as a general inflammatory response to food intolerances or sensitivities, this offers an ideal environment for both bacteria and viruses to get trapped and flourish. As a result of a child’s immune system being immature and underdeveloped, they are less capable of warding off infection.
Risk factors for ear infections include:
- Exposure to 2nd hand smoke
- Environmental allergies
- Not being breastfed
- Feeding (typically via bottle) in a horizontal/reclined position
Signs & symptoms of ear infections include:
- Loss of appetite
- Apathy and lethargy
- Fussiness and/or irritability
- Muffled hearing
- Fluid leaking from the affected hear (signs that ear drum has ruptured)
- Ear pain and/or tugging at the ear may NOT be present in younger children
The overuse of antibiotics to treat ear infections is on the rise, but what many parents don’t realize is that 80% of kids will get better without needing an antibiotic at all. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a “watch and wait” period of 48-72 hours to see if symptoms resolve prior to resorting to antibiotics (1).
Naturopathic solutions for preventing and treating ear infections:
- Identify and remove potential food sensitivities and intolerances (i.e. dairy)
- Perform lymphatic massage to promote fluid drainage. Apply gentle pressure adjacent to the ear massaging towards the cheek and down the sides of the neck (3).
- Use garlic-mullein ear oil. While laying on their side with the affected year facing upwards, place 3-7 drops of oil into the affected ear and rest like this for 5-10 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times day as necessary. (3,4)
- At-home recipe: place 1 whole bulb of finely chopped garlic and 1 oz of mullein flowers in a mason jar. Add olive oil until the jar is full and stir the mixture to release air bubbles. Cover the jar and place in direct sunlight for 3 weeks. Strain into a clean jar (discarding plant material) and store in the fridge for up to 2 years.
- Commercial brands are also available at most health food stores.
- DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THE EAR IF EARDRUM HAS RUPTURED
- Use an onion ear-muff. Cut an onion in half and steam or microwave until juices are visible on the surface. Cover the onion with a piece of cheesecloth (or a nylon stocking) and place over the affected ear. Hold in place for 10-15 minutes to allow the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of the onion into the ear (2).
- Decrease sugar consumption (often found in fruit juices, pop, and other dairy products)
- Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about other immuno-supportive therapies like: Echinacea, elderberry, vitamin D, probiotics, and fish oil that may be appropriate for your child (4).
- Increase fluid intake (water) and rest.
Antibiotics should be considered when (1):
- Children are under 6 months of age
- Children are 6-24 months of age and have signs of a severe infection, or are experiencing symptoms in both ears.
- Symptoms fail to improve in 48-72 hours after onset (and after trying other naturopathic interventions)
1. American Acadmey of Pediatrics (2013). Questions and answers on acute otitis media. Available at http://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/patient_care/clinical_recommendations/ao qanda.pdf. Accessed on January 24, 2015.
2. Bastyr University. Find the cause of your child’s ear infection. Available at http://www.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2011/09/find-cause-your-childs-ear-infection. Accessed on January 24, 2015.
3. Romm, Aviva. Earache/Ear infections. Herbal Medicine for Kids. E-book available at http://avivaromm.com/romm/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Herbs-for-Kids-Romm.pdf Accessed on January 24, 2015.
4. Sarrell EM, Cohen HA, Kahan E. Naturopathic treatment for ear pain in children. Pediatrics. 2003 May 111:e574-9.