“Mommy! My ear hurts!”
If you’re a parent of young children, you’ve heard these words more than once.
Ear infections are one of the the most common childhood illnesses. In fact, 5 out of 6 children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.
But an earache doesn’t always warrant a round of antibiotics. In fact, the latest guidelines suggest that doctors should focus on pain management, not antibiotics, for ear infection treatment. Why? Ear infections almost always go away on their own.
Statistics show that 70% of ear infections are caused by a virus, and antibiotics (bacteria-killing drugs) have no affect on viral infections.
What Causes an Ear Infection?
An ear infection is most often caused by swollen or infected portions of the middle ear, also known as acute otitis media (AOM). Ear pain results when fluid becomes trapped behind the eardrum in the eustachian tube (circled in the figure to the right.) This provides the perfect breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to grow.
Why Don’t Adults Get Ear Infections?
A child’s eustachian tube has less of an downward angle, making it almost horizontal when they are an infant. As the child matures, the tube begins to angle downward where gravity pulls fluid down to allow it to drain.
Children usually start having fewer ear infections after the age of 5 or 6 when their eustachian tubes are three times as long and positioned more vertically, allowing fluid to drain.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
Ear infections usually happen during or immediately after a head cold. (This is where the extra fluid comes from.) If your child’s earache begins while they still have a runny nose, sore throat or fever, it’s likely an ear infection.
The following signs can indicate a possible ear infection
- Earache or ear pain (Younger children may pull on their ear.)
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty hearing
- No appetite
- Ear drainage
How to Know If Your Child Has an Ear Infection
Most parents don’t realize that they can purchase an otoscope that will allow them to gently look into their child’s ear.
If you decide to purchase one of these look in your child’s ear when it’s healthy so that you can more easily identify a change later if it becomes infected.
An ear infection will be pink, while a healthy ear will be gray.
Most otoscopes come with more than one head. Choose the smaller, shorter head for a small child and be careful not to put it too far into your child’s ear. (Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.)
Only look into the ear of a child who is calm and relaxed, and enlist the help if another adult to keep them calm or occupied, if necessary, so that you can safely see inside.
What are the Most Effective Ear Infection Treatment Options?
Since ear infections are often caused by a virus, medical doctors can only offer treatment for the symptoms. Antibiotics have no effect on a virus. Save the trip and expense to your medical doctor’s office and try these options instead:
1. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are typically recommended to relieve pain, but use them sparingly as all medications have side effects.
2. Chiropractic Treatment
Chiropractic treatment involves gently adjusting or moving joints that are locked up or fixated, restoring motion and increasing blood flow to that area.
Given the fact that most ear infections are caused by trapped fluid, a chiropractic adjustment usually provides the movement necessary to help the fluid to drain down the eustachian tube as it was designed. Several studies show that chiropractic care is an extremely safe and effective ear infection treatment option.
One study found that 90% of the participants experienced improvement from an ear infection after receiving chiropractic adjustments, and 43% of them after just one or two adjustments.
Your chiropractor can also take a look inside your child’s ear to diagnose the ear infection. This is a good option to confirm your suspicions.
Chiropractic treatment has the added benefit of boosting your immune system.
3. Warm Compresses
Warm compresses such as a warm washcloth or heating pad placed over the ear are often a soothing and calming way to treat the pain of an ear infection. Be careful when using heating pads with children.
4. Support Their Immune System
Support your child’s body while it’s working hard to fight off the infection, by increasing your child’s daily vitamin C and probiotics. Most health food stores offer a wide selection of kid-friendly probiotics and supplements. Your child may even be asking for them long after their ear infection is gone.
5. Elevate Their Head
Rolling up a couple of towels and placing them under the head of your child’s mattress while she’s fighting an ear infection can help the fluid to drain. Also try to increase their opportunities to rest. Putting them to bed a few minutes early or allowing them to sleep in the next morning will provide their body with more time to rest while it’s working extra hard.
6. Oil Drops or Naturopathic Drops
Garlic oil with mullein and naturopathic ear drops can be found online and in most drug stores. Warm the oil by placing the glass bottle in some warm water for a few minutes. Then, place 2-3 drops into your child’s ear. The warm oil has been shown to soothe an earache. Be careful to make sure the oil isn’t warmer than your body temperature, to avoid burning the eardrum.
One study found that naturopathic drops that contain herbal extracts can be just as effective as traditional over-the-counter ear drops.
How Long Will Their Ear Infection Last?
As long as the body is creating fluid to fight off the invasion, there is still a need for that fluid to drain. Ear infectons usually clear up on their own in about a week or two, and symptoms usually start to lessen within a few days.
However, call your doctor if your child’s earache lasts for more than a few days or becomes gradually worse.
Ear infections are a common childhood illness caused by trapped fluid in the middle ear. By finding ways to allow that fluid to drain and supporting the immune system, most ear infections resolve on their own without the need for antibiotics.
Our team of Kansas City chiropractors specialize in treating children. You can always give us a call to talk with one of our experienced chiropractors at 913-764-6237.