Why is it that some children seem to get ear infections over and over and over and over again? Yet other children never seem to get them at all?
Middle ear infections (called otitis media) are the most common cause of childhood illness, but they remain as mysterious as ever. In as many as half of all cases, the actual bacteria or virus which causes the infection cannot be identified. Even the process by which the fluid accumulates in the middle ear may not be understood.
Most doctors, after seeing a reddened eardrum during an otoscopic exam, used to prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. It is now recognized that antibiotics should not initially be prescribed in most cases. Antibiotics cannot help in a viral infection. And the problem appears not to be the infection itself, but that the fluid from the infection presses against the eardrum. All children will fight off infections.
The question is how to help drain the ear, or prevent the ear from being involved at all.
The only way for the middle ear to drain is through a narrow tube lined by smooth muscle, called the Eustachian tube, or pharyngotympanic tube. This tube connects the middle ear with the back of the throat. If this tube is constricted because of overly tight muscles or dysfunctional nerves which control those muscles, then the fluid will not be able to escape the middle ear.
A common procedure now, especially when hearing is affected, is to bypass the Eustachian tube: doctors drain the middle ear by piercing the eardrum itself, inserting a plastic tube into the child's ear, and allowing the ear to drain to the outside. Unfortunately, this treatment may be unnecessary, does not help children improve in the long term, and can result in eardrum scarring that will disrupt the child's ability to hear in later life.
Thus, most doctors have now chosen to adopt a course of "watchful waiting." Doctors would rather do nothing harmful in the hope that the Eustachian tube will spontaneously allow drainage.
Some children tend to get recurring ear infections, a condition called chronic otitis media. These children do not fight off more bacteria and viruses than other children; these children simply have not had the cause of the ear infections treated. Their Eustachian tubes are still constricted. Infections still tend to become trapped in the middle ear.
How We Can Help Your Child's Ear Infections
The purpose of the chiropractic adjustment is to restore proper nervous system balance. Some nerves that control the muscles of the Eustachian tube are from the fifth cranial nerve, which has a long and special "control station" that extends down the spinal cord deep into the neck. Other nerves that control the muscles arise from large nerve bundles in the neck, called sympathetic ganglia. If these nerves are not communicating properly because of issues in the spinal cord, spinal column, muscles of the neck, or other reasons, the muscles of the Eustachian tube will not receive proper instructions on when to tighten and when to relax.
Often, children have neck problems from the modern birth process itself, meaning that the cause of the "ear infection" will remain as long as the neck problem remains.
Chiropractors have long claimed success in treating ear infections in children. As chiropractors help eliminate cervical (neck) nerve interference in children, a possible "side effect" is a reduction in the number and severity of ear infections! There is also a case where a child was treated in the upper back (not the neck!) with the gentle Activator Methods adjustments, and his chronic ear infections with strong-smelling discharge cleared up after the first adjustment.
Dr. Joan Fallon, a chiropractor from New York, says, "Chiropractic mobilizes drainage of the ear in children, and if they can continue to drain without a buildup of fluid and subsequent infection, they build up their own antibodies and recover more quickly." She has seen great success after adjusting hundreds of children. Chiropractic is "safe and effective," she explains, "and something that parents should try, certainly before inserting tubes in their children's ears."
Dr. Peter Fysh, a chiropractor from California, writes that "restricted lymphatic drainage from the middle ear plays a major part in the establishment of chronic recurrent infections. Lymphatic drainage from the ear runs by way of the cervical lymph system and depends significantly for its flow on adequate muscle activity. If a child has had a fall, for example, and has caused a minor misalignment in one of the vertebrae in the neck, the irritation caused by that problem is sufficient to cause the neck muscles to develop a state of increased tension or spasm. The resulting muscle contraction, especially in the area of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM), can be the cause of restricted lymph drainage from the ear."
There may also be other causes of ear infections. Some experts believe that recurrent upper respiratory infections, which can lead to the infections localizing in the ear, may be the result of allergies, especially food allergies and food intolerance. Cow's milk, as found in all dairy products, may be a culprit. It is not certain, however, whether the allergies cause the ear infections, or whether they are both caused by an unknown process.
Dr. Kyle Johnson, a local Peoria chiropractor at Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria, is always available for a consultation with your child regarding her ear infection. Finding and gently treating the cause of the problem is our first priority.
Common Symptoms In Children
- fever (as in most infections)
- trouble sleeping
- sudden problems with balance
- sudden loss of hearing
- fluid draining from ear
- tugging at ear (this may or may not indicate a possible ear infection)