Ear infection, or acute otitis media, is the most common medical problem for children in the western world and the major reason for the use of antibiotics and pain relief medication by children. However, many doctors are now finding that routine use of antibiotics is not helpful and can set up health problems for the child in later life.
Physical Causes of Ear Infections
Children’s immune systems – even if they are breastfed – take at least 7 years to fully develop. The viruses they pick up in early life inevitably lead to the ears being affected in some way.
The Eustachian tubes, the small passages that connect the middle ear to the back of the throat behind the nose, are shorter and flatter in children, which makes them more prone to blockage and easier for bacteria and viruses to gain access.
The adenoids, the glands behind the nasal passages, are enlarged in children and can prevent the Eustachian tubes from expanding and contracting properly.
Other Reasons for Persistent Ear Problems
Because childhood ear infections are such a universal problem, there has been a great deal of research done worldwide into what causes them to be more common in some children than others.
Canadian research lays the blame firmly on second hand cigarette smoke. Scientists found that children who are exposed to cigarette smoke during the first 3 years of life have almost double the risk of persistent ear infections. Their research also pointed to a similar risk arising from exposure in the early years to heavy traffic pollution.
Researchers in Finland point the finger at the use of dummies as being a high-risk factor. Two separate studies looked at the constant introduction of bacteria to the oral cavity by a dummy going in and out of a child’s mouth, and the fact that sucking on a dummy changes the jawbone configuration and, therefore, opens the Eustachian tubes to allow easy access for bacteria.
Babies in Day Care
Various American studies have shown that babies who are put into day care facilities from an early age (under 1 year old) have more frequent ear infections because of their exposure to lots of other children. Those who stayed at home with their parent until the age of 4, only meeting a few other children socially each week, fared better.
Position when Feeding
Some Scandinavian research has concentrated on the hypothesis that babies and toddlers who lay down flat when being Fed By Breast Or Bottle, actually take some of the fluid, whether it is milk, water or juice into their Eustachian tubes and the inflammation is a result of the middle ear reacting to the foreign substances.
And finally, another piece of research from Finland, suggests that persistent ear infections are always more prevalent in children who have a cow’s milk allergy. Though it may cause the child to make more mucus than other children, it may not have any other effect on their general health. In one study, an astonishing 86% of the children tested became free of ear problems once they came off dairy food.
What Else Can Be Done?
If all the physical problems highlighted above are addressed, the next step is to boost the immune system by ensuring Your Child Has A Good Diet and supplements.
Echinacea drops in water or fruit juice can be taken on a short-term basis, say 2-3 weeks a time, when a child is suffering from an infection or recovering from one. The child’s dose will be on the bottle. Echinacea lozenges are also available. This is a useful way of taking the herb because the sucking action opens the Eustachian tubes.
Vitamin C and zinc are both immune system boosters and help fight infection. Again, it is possible to buy lozenges from any pharmacy that contain both. There will be a stated limit to the number of lozenges that a child may suck during the day.
Active Manuka honey from New Zealand has proved its worth in many scientific studies for its antibacterial, immune-boosting and healing qualities. There are several strengths – 5+, 10+ and 16+. It is recommended by the manufacturers that children should take a teaspoonful of 16+ honey on a piece of bread twice a day. No foods or fluids should be taken up to half an hour before to half an hour afterwards, so as not to dilute the honey. The bread makes the honey stay longer in the stomach.
Manuka honey should not be added to hot food or drinks as heat destroys its antibacterial properties. It is also possible to get Manuka capsules. Obviously, diabetic children should take advice before taking this honey, although it is a slow release sugar.
Probiotics can play a useful role in building up the immune system. If your child is not Cow’s Milk sensitive, it is worth trying some of the latest probiotic yoghurt drinks. However, the best way of ensuring a decent dose is to take the capsules. Most of them can, fortunately, be broken open and sprinkled on food. Do not add it to hot food or drinks as it will kill the good bacteria.