Fighting Ear Infections

Antibiotic-free treatment for earaches.

Fighting Ear Infections

Photo: Gerri Photography


The Canadian Paediatric Society recently recommended that doctors watch and wait for 48 hours before treating most ear infections with antibiotics. Only a small percentage of children, they say, will go on to require antibiotics in order to resolve their symptoms. This applies to children over six months of age who are generally well, do not have a high fever and do not look particularly ill.

Since antibiotics are not needed for most children with ear infections, parents need to know two things: how to treat their kids without antibiotics, and how to prevent ear infections from occurring.

Young kids more susceptible

A little biology is helpful in understanding how ear infections occur. The ear has three sections or chambers. The middle chamber is the area most commonly infected when children complain of earaches. The middle ear connects to the throat by the Eustachian tube. This tube helps to balance air pressure and drain excess fluid from the middle ear. When congestion occurs in the Eustachian tube, pressure builds up due to fluid accumulation and the ear becomes very painful.

Infants and small children are particularly subject to ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are smaller and more horizontal than those of older children and are less able to drain fluid from the middle ear. Colds, flu, allergies (from foods, pets, cigarettes, wood smoke, dust, pollen, etc.) and throat infections can cause congestion in the Eustachian tube that leads to ear infections.

Keep infants healthy

A healthy child is less prone to infections of any kind. Keeping your child healthy begins at birth. Breast milk provides the nutrients that babies need to stay healthy as well as antibodies from the mother. That’s why it’s best to breast-feed babies exclusively until six months of age. (A great resource for breastfeeding moms is the Calm Baby Cookbook by Dr. Melanie Beingessner;

Breast fed babies also tend to have fewer ear infections because they are held while being fed. If babies are fed from a bottle while lying on their backs, milk can regurgitate up the Eustachian tube. Holding babies upright while feeding prevents this 
from happening. When feeding your infant, wheth-

er by breast or bottle, use your fingers to provide a little gentle rhythmic traction on the outer ear in an upward and backward direction. This can help to open the Eustachian tube to allow excess fluid to drain. If done very gently while the baby is swallowing, she should feel comforted and soothed by it.

Supplements can help your baby stave off ear infections. Vitamin C, D, and zinc are known to help prevent colds and flus. Probiotics or ‘healthy bacteria’ and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce congestion, allergies, asthma and help prevent infections. These supplements are available in infant and children’s doses at your local health food stores.

Treating an ear infection

If your child develops an ear infection, applying a warm compress to the affected ear can be very soothing. A hot humidifier (steamer) can help to break up congestion, especially if the air is dry.

You can also warm up and apply ear drops containing oils of mullein, St. John’s wort, echinacea and garlic. These herbs are antimicrobial (inhibit the growth of microorganisms) and pain relieving. Never use drops if the eardrum has ruptured (in which case you may see some fluid coming out of the ear) or if your child has had tubes put in her ears.

Keep your child drinking as much liquid as you can. Swallowing helps to open the Eustachian tube and drain the middle ear. Children over two can have warm water or diluted teas made with chamomile, ginger, cinnamon or licorice and sweetened with honey. Honey can be very soothing and antimicrobial for sore throats, colds and ear infections but should not be used in infants under the age of two.

Remember that fever is part of your body’s attempt to fight infection. A fever of 101° to 103° Fahrenheit (38° to 39.5° Celsius) is the optimal temperature range for fighting infections. However, if your child has a rapidly rising fever, develops a stiff neck or appears dazed and uncommunicative, he should be taken to the emergency room. A fever in an infant under six months of age always requires professional attention.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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