DR. WENDY CUNNINGHAM: Ear infections in children

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Millions of children visit doctors for ear infections each year. They account for more than 35 percent of all pediatric visits. One-third of the children with ear infections have more than four in a year. Why do we have this epidemic?

Ear infections happen in the middle ear, a very small closed space that should be filled with air so it can pass sound from the eardrum to the inner ear. It is separated from the outer ear canal by the eardrum. The Eustachian tubes are a pair of narrow tubes that run from each middle ear to high in the back of the throat, behind the nasal passages. The throat end of the tubes open and close to regulate air pressure in the middle ear and drain normal secretions from the middle ear. Swelling, inflammation and mucus in the Eustachian tubes can block them, causing the accumulation of fluids in the middle ear. A bacterial or viral infection of this fluid is usually what produces the symptoms of an ear infection.

A child’s Eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal than those of an adult. That makes them more difficult to drain and more likely to get clogged. Standard medical treatment for most cases of otitis media consists of antibiotics. Antibiotics clear away the infectious agent, but do not remove the mucus. Since the mucus is a good medium for growing bacteria, the infection happens again. After numerous ear infections, the next step is usually inserting a tube through the eardrum so mucus can drain from the middle ear. This is a symptomatic measure because it does not stop the production of mucus or open the natural channel for draining it. Neither antibiotics nor ear tubes solve the real problem.

The underlying issue is the abnormal flora that has developed in the child’s nose and throat. Research shows that when the flora is normalized, the excess mucus, inflammation and infections disappear. This problem is best corrected by dietary changes and a strong therapeutic probiotic. The diet should not provide food for abnormal bacteria. These foods are sugars, milk and processed carbohydrates. The beneficial bacteria in the probiotic help to clear out pathogenic flora and re-establish normal, healthy flora in the mouth, nose and throat, which will keep the child clear from ear infections. This is most effective when you open a capsule of probiotic into your child’s mouth before bed. This way the probiotic will have a chance to work in the mouth and throat all night.

Reducing antibiotic exposure in children should be a priority, especially in the case of ear infections. A healthy diet and good quality probiotic should not only correct the underlying cause of ear infections, but also improve overall health.

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Dr. Wendy Cunningham is a Certified Acupuncturist and Doctor of Chiropractic. For more information contact Dr. Wendy at haydenhealth@gmail.com.

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