Chances are if you are reading this blog post you know what it’s like to have a child with ear infections. Irritable, up all night, off their food, pulling their ear and possibly screaming louder then you knew was possible. Maybe they also have a cold, maybe a fever or maybe not, but they are certainly not their normal selves and it can be heartbreaking to watch.
The dreaded ear infection (otitis media (OM) in medical terms) is a leading cause of doctor visits by children and the most common reason children are prescribed antibiotics (1).
Quite often they become chronic, with children suffering reoccurring or persistent ear infections.
As parents, we worry about more serious complications such as:
* middle and inner ear damage
* hearing impairment
* and whether this will go on to affect their speech, language, cognitive and social development.
Whilst this can be the case at times, the majority of cases of OM are not severe, and are self-limiting, meaning they will often resolve on their own with no treatment (2,3). That’s right, with no antibiotics.
I often have distressed parents bring in their children desperate for help with recurrent ear aches. One of my main roles is to establish if there are other drivers (aside from small eustachian tubes and immature immune systems) that place your child at a higher risk of recurrent ear infections. Allergic rhinitis and gastro-oesophageal reflux are two conditions that have been connected to higher rates of ear infections, and these are both considered when I work with you and your child in the clinic.
In my experience, the other biggest factors I have seen reduce and clear ear infections are working on gut health, supporting immunity and optimising nutritional status.
As ear infections often follow or accompany colds and upper respiratory tract infections, anything we can do to improve your children’s immunity, and reduce how many sniffles and viruses they pick up helps limit risk of ear infections. I do this through optimising gut health and your child’s diet, as well as providing additional nutritional and herbal support when needed.
Around two thirds of our immune cells are within our gut, so a healthy gut is essential for optimal immune health throughout the body. Probiotics have a huge role to play in supporting gut health, yet the strains we chose can have a big impact elsewhere too. Certain strains of probiotics have also been shown to minimise upper respiratory infections in children, making these my pick for my patients with recurrent ear infections.
Many of the herbs in my toolbox are well suited to supporting both acute and chronic ear infections in even my littlest of patients. Immune-enhancing and anti-catarrhal herbs (meaning they reduce excess upper respiratory tract mucus) are cornerstones in most of my formulas.
I then add anti-allergic herbs, herbs to support lymphatic flow and herbs for supporting fever depending on the needs of each individual case. I also have a beautiful natural ear drop formula I give to help with relieving pain and discomfort (this formula has even been trialed against anesthetic ear drops with comparable results) (4).
When it comes to managing your child’s ear infections, it can be comforting to know there may be more you can do than just treating each one with antibiotics as it arises.
With the right support specific to your child’s needs, you may be able to not only help them through acute infections but reduce their recurrence and in some cases, prevent future cases occurring.
1. Freid VM, Mukuc DM, Rooks RN. Vital Health Stat 1998; 13(137); 1-23
4. Sarrel EM, Cohen HA, Kahan E. Pediatrics 2003; 111 (5 Pt 1): e574-579
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Sandi Cooper is an experienced Naturopath working in clinical practice for almost two decades. Her clients love her down-to-earth approach and her naturally caring qualities. Although Sandi is experienced in most areas of clinical practice, she has a special interest in children’s health and nutrition, working with parents to get the best outcomes for their children.