Does your child keep getting ear infections?
Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday and it is at this particular time of year that the little ones might be coming home from school repeatedly with runny noses, coughs and … ear infections.
Most ear infections are a consequence of colds that ascend along the auditory tube: in infants and preschool children we see uncharacteristic symptoms such as refusal to eat, restlessness, fidgeting with ear and even diarrhea. For older children, the picture is dominated by stabbing or throbbing ear pain with headaches and possibly a fever. Due to the rise of antibiotic resistance, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend a watch and wait period of 48 – 72 hours to see if mild ear infections in children over 6 months resolve on their own before using an antibiotic.
Why do children have a higher occurrence of ear infections?
It is not surprising to see that children experience ear infections much more often than adults if we take a look at the cranial anatomy of a child. In a newborn, the auditory, or Eustachian tube, is more horizontal than in an adult. As the head grows, this orientation continuously changes before ending up vertical, promoting efficient drainage from the middle ear. Otitis Media (middle ear infection), or glue ear (fluid buildup in ear) generally occurs less commonly after the age of 6. There are further factors to consider, however. In my clinical experience, ear infections occur more often in children with accumulative stressors that impact the ear and ventilation of the Eustachian tube negatively. For example:
A fall to the head, which affects the cranial bones and their ability to move and drain properly.
Tension in the neck and shoulders (yes, even kids can have this!) can interfere with proper lymphatic drainage and compromise the immune system’s ability to fight off disease.
Kids who are mouth breathers have a higher occurrence of Otitis Media due to decreased saliva production while mouth breathing. This leads to less swallowing which normally opens and ventilates the auditory tube.
Enlarged adenoids can hinder the ear from opening and draining.
An allergic constitution or environmental factors (e.g. mold) that they are exposed to can compromise their immune function chronically.
Reflux is a less well-known cause for ear infection but studies have shown that 83 percent of children with ear infections have increased stomach acid (Tasker et al, 2002).
As a Cranial Osteopath I look at strain patterns in the head. These are often a result of a long, complicated birth, C-sections or falls to the head. The bones of an infant skull are not yet solidified, and therefore very malleable and easily influenced by impacts. One common pattern that contributes to ear infection is compression in the part of the skull — the temporal bone — that houses the middle and inner ear. Through Craniosacral treatments we can re-establish movement and thus re-establish efficient drainage and improved function of the auditory tube. This is especially important for children who experience recurring ear infections.
Strategies to reduce pain and strengthen the immune system:
Using a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can bring comfort to a painful ear. DO NOT use a heating pad.
Firm but gentle massage all around the jaw and head in the area adjacent to the ear. Massage in a downward direction behind the ear on the neck and apply gentle inward pressure in front of the ear toward the cheek.
Avoid juice and dairy: Kids who drink a lot these products get more ear infections. They encourage the production of mucus in the upper respiratory system while the sugar in them depresses immune function.
If you are concerned about your child’s condition, seek the advice of a family practitioner or pediatrician.
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