If a child has a bothersome cold for a week. Her nasal discharge turns a little green and her cough starts to keep the family all up at night. Then one night she is up every hour extremely fussy with a fever.
Ear infections are one of the most worrisome illnesses for both parents and children to go through, especially if they frequently recur. They also are the most common reason for antibiotic prescriptions. Here’s a guide to help understand why ear infections occur, how to best treat them, and most importantly, how to prevent them from happening too often.
EIGHT MAIN SYMPTOMS OF EAR INFECTIONS
If a child has 2 or more of these symptoms it is likely she has an ear infection:
- Cold symptoms – keep in mind that ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Often a clear runny nose will turn yellow or green before an ear infection sets in.
- Fussiness during the day or night.
- Complaining of ear pain or hearing loss.
- Night-waking more frequently.
- Unwillingness to lie flat.
- Fever – usually low grade (10 1 ° – 102°); or there may be no fever at all.
- Sudden increase in fussiness during a cold .
- Ear drainage – if there is blood or puss draining out of the ear, then it is probably an infection with a ruptured eardrum. DON’T WORRY! These almost always heal just fine, and once the eardrum ruptures the pain subsides.
HOW TO TELL IF A CHILD DOES NOT HAVE AN EAR INFECTION
- No cold symptoms – if a child has some of the above symptoms but does not have a cold, an ear infection is less likely, unless the child has a history of ear infections without a cold.
- Pulling at the ears or batting the ears in infants less than 1 year of age. Infants less than one is unable to precisely localize their ear pain. This means that they cannot tell that the pain is coming from the ear or from structures near the ear. Infants can pull on or bat at their ears for two other common reasons:
- Teething – Baby thinks the pain from sore gums is coming from the ears.
- Because they like playing with their ears – Infants are fascinated with these strange appendages that are sticking out of the side of their head. They love to explore them, play with them, and especially to stick their finger into that strange hole in the middle.
- No complaints of ear pain in a child who is old enough to say that they are in pain or having symptoms, usually by age two or three.
CHILD PULLS AT HIS EARS
According to Dr. Sears, infants often pull on their ears simply to play with them. Ear pulling in the absence of the above signs is unlikely to signal an ear infection.
HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EAR INFECTION & TEETHING?
Symptoms that accompany teething is often mistaken for an ear infection. How to tell if a child is teething:
- Pain usually starts at four months of age and will come and go until the two-year molars are in.
- Tugging or digging at the ears with no cold symptoms or fever.
- Fussiness or night waking with no cold symptoms or fever May have low fever less than 101.
- Note: Teething does not cause a runny nose, only drool.
To understand how ear infections start, it is important to know ear anatomy. The ear is divided into three parts: the outer ear canal, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The middle ear is where infections occur. The inner ear is where the nerves and balance center are. A thin, membranous eardrum divides the outer and middle ear. The middle ear space is also connected to the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube.
THE EUSTACHIAN TUBE
The Eustachian tube acts as a conduit between the nose and throat for drainage and pressure. Infants and young children have an Immature Eustachian tube. The tube is much shorter and is angled. It is therefore much easier for bacteria to migrate from the nose and throat up into the middle ear space. As the child grows this tube becomes more vertical, so germs have to travel “up hill” to reach the middle ear making ear infections less likely to occur. This is one reason children “outgrow” ear infections.
During a cold a child’s nasal passages get swollen and mucus collects in the back of the nose. This environment is a breeding ground for the bacteria that normally live in the nose and throat. When this bacteria out grows the space it travels into the Eustachian tube. Mucus is also secreted within the middle ear space just as it is in the sinuses.
Germs migrate up through the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear space where they multiply within the mucus that is stuck there. Puss begins to form and soon the middle ear space is filled with bacteria, puss and thick mucus.
This puss causes the eardrum to bulge causing pain. It is this red, bulging puss-colored eardrum that the doctor can see by looking into the ear canal.
The discharge that collects in the middle presses on the eardrum preventing it from vibrating normally. This is what the doctor means by “fluid in the middle ear.” Also the fluid plugs the Eustachian tube and dampens the sound like the sensation in the ears during air travel.
ARE EAR INFECTIONS CONTAGIOUS?
No, the bacteria inside the ear causing the infection are not contagious. The cold virus that can lead to an ear infection is contagious. Generally, if the ear infection occurs a week after the cold begins when the child is no longer contagious.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ALLEVIATE SYMPTOMS OF EAR INFECTIONS?
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen are effective pain relievers for ear pain. Refer to the label for dosage directions. Generally speaking, one can safely use these products to help quiet a fussy child and help them (and the rest of the household) get a good night’s sleep. They will not interfere with a homeopathic remedy.
- Warm compresses are often very soothing and can help child to resolve an ear infection on his own. Wet a wash cloth with warm water, wring it dry and apply the warm washcloth to the ear. Moist heat is more effective than dry heat.
- Warm olive oil, vegetable oil, or garlic oil can be helpful. Ear oil made from a mixture of oil, garlic and other herbs can be purchased at most health food stores. It comes in a dropper bottle. Heat the entire bottle in a hot water bath. Have the child lean their head to one side and drop several drops into the ear. Have the child lie on the side that is not painful and cover the painful ear with a warm moist washcloth. MAKE SURE THE OIL ISN’T TOO HOT.
- If the above remedies aren’t enough, anesthetic ear drops are available by prescription and can numb the eardrum to minimize the pain for an hour or two.
- WARNING – If there is any liquid or puss draining out of the ear, DO NOT PUT ANY OF DROPS INTO THE EAR.
- Antibiotics are often used to treat ear infections.
AVOID ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Antibiotics don’t always work for a child. Antibiotics can make bacteria that normally exist in a child more resistant to the stronger antibiotics, and can make future infections more difficult treat. Even if amoxicillin hasn’t worked once or twice in the past, chances are that this new infection is a different bacteria that is sensitive to amoxicillin, especially if more than two months have passed since the last antibiotic. To help avoid antibiotic resistance antibiotics are available in a form that is taken less often for a shorter period of time. One should always follow the doctor’s instructions and take the full course of antibiotics.
Try to avoid over-treating with unnecessary repeated courses of antibiotics. At a follow-up visit with the doctor, there may still be fluid in the middle ear. If the ear is not red or bulging, and the child is acting fine, another course of antibiotics may not be necessary. Doctors will vary in how aggressive they like to treat ear fluid. It is important to spare children from unnecessary courses of antibiotics.
SIDE EFFECTS OF ANTIBIOTICS
Typical side effects of antibiotics include:
- Fungal diaper rash;
- Oral thrush;
- Vomiting; and,
- Other rashes.
ARE ANTIBIOTICS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY TO TREAT AN EAR INFECTION?
New research is suggesting that 80% of uncomplicated ear infections will resolve within 4 to 7 days without antibiotics. Parents who choose not to use antibiotics can treat the pain and fever with anesthetic ear drops and ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. Homeopathy offers great support for ear infections. The correct remedy can resolve an ear infection quickly, without complication. Constitutional care from a qualified classical homeopath can prevent the recurrence of ear infections.
CHRONIC EAR FLUID CAN LEAD TO CHRONIC EAR INFECTIONS
An ear infection is considered resolved when there is no longer blockage or fluid in the middle year. It can sometimes take several months for the fluid to drain out of the middle ear space. During this period the hearing can be muffled. This isn’t dangerous and does not cause permanent hearing loss. Thankfully, the fluid often drains out within two or three weeks.
When worry about this fluid in the ear:
- Eustachian tube dysfunction – this is a condition where the Eustachian tube can’t do its job correctly and the middle ear doesn’t drain. Causes include chronic sinus infections, nasal allergies and frequent colds.
- Fluid that stays in the ear for more than three to four months can become thick and gooey, a term called “glue ear”. This type of fluid often needs to be drained surgically by an ear specialist.
- Muffled hearing is a symptom that is usually only temporary, however, but the longer it goes on, the longer the development of speech and hearing can be delayed. If a long period of muffled hearing occurs during the first two years of Life when language development is crucial, it can cause speech delay.
- If a child has several ear infections over a three to four month period, and the fluid never really has time to drain in between infections, this can cause a prolonged period of muffled hearing. Again, don’t worry if it takes one or two months for the fluid to drain out of a child’s ear. This is common.
TEN STEPS TO PREVENTING EAR INFECTIONS
- Breastfeeding. There is no doubt whatsoever in the medical literature that prolonged breastfeeding lowers a child’s chances of getting ear infections
- Daycare setting. Continuous exposure to other children increases the risk that a child will catch more colds, and consequently more ear infections. Crowded daycare settings are a set up for germ sharing. If possible, find child a small, home daycare setting. This will lower the risk.
- Control allergies. Sometimes allergies contribute to runny noses and, consequently, ear infections.
- Feed baby upright. Lying down while bottle-feeding can cause the milk to irritate the Eustachian tube and can contribute to ear infections.
- Keep the nose clear. When a runny nose and cold start, it is best to keep the nose clear by using steam, saline nose drops, and suctioning.
- Cigarette smoke. There is strong evidence that smoking irritates baby’s nasal passage, which leads to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
- Echinacea – this is an herb which can safely and effectively boost the immune system.
- Chiropractic care or Cranial Sacral care. I firmly believe that these type of adjustments to the skull and neck can improve middle ear drainage and decrease ear infections.
- Fruits & Vegetables. Eat more raw fruits and vegetables – these can positively support a child’s immune system and help fight off infections.
- Warm head. Keep the head warm when the child is out side, the use of a cap or scarf wrapped around the head can protect the ear from cold drafts.
THREE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES THAT CAN RESOLVE EAR INFECTIONS
There are many homeopathic remedies that can resolve ear infections. Success with homeopathy requires that the correct remedy is chosen. Choosing the correct remedy is achieved by matching the symptoms to that of the remedy. Here is an example of three common homeopathic remedies that can help resolve ear infections.
- Aconite. Symptoms of an ear infection that would respond will to Aconite include sudden on set of an ear infection. An ear infection accompanied by high fever that begins within 24 hours after exposure to cold weather. Ears are bright red and the child is sensitive to noise. They can be nervous and restless.
- Chamomilla. Symptoms of ear infections that would respond well to Chamomilla is a child that is cross, contrary, and inconsolable. They usually demand to be carried or rocked and ask for things which are immediately thrown aside. One cheek may be red and hot while the other is pale. The ears are hot and very painful and often the child does not want to be touched or examined. This remedy is usually indicated for ear infections that occur during teething.
- Pulsatilla. The ear feels stopped or full. Often these ear infections accompany a cold with thick, profuse, yellow-green discharge from the nose, ears, and lungs. They child is weepy and clingy. Wants to be held, carried, and cuddled. Pain my be worse at night and in a warm stuffy room.
HOW TO GIVE A HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY TO A CHILD
It is best to use the 30C potency of a homeopathic remedy. Remedies that are available form the health food store are usually in the form of small round white pellets and are packaged in small tubes with self-dispensing caps. The advantage of using homeopathic remedies is that they are safe for children and adults of all ages and have little to no taste. Without touching the remedy drop the pellet from the lid into a half-cup of water. The pellet need not dissolve. Give the child 1 spoonful every two to four hours. Rapidly stir the liquid in the cup 5-10 times in between each spoonful.
HOW DO DOES ONE KNOW IF THE REMEDY IS WORKING?
A good remedy response for children is sleep. The child calms down and falls a sleep. This can happen as soon as the remedy is taken. An other positive response is if the child becomes hungry. Shortly after sleep or hunger the symptoms of an ear infection begin to resolve.
If the symptoms resolve and then return, additional doses of the remedy can be given.
WHAT IF THE REMEDY DOESN’T WORK?
If there is no improvement in several hours, stop. It is not the correct remedy. Try another remedy or call a board certified homeopath for help.
Ear Infections, www.askdrsears.com
Homeopathic Self-Care: Quick & Easy Guide for the Whole Family, Robert Ullman, ND, Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, 1997
Flu 2011-flutips_newphoto_SFBWJ: 10 Best Practices to Keep You Well, San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Journal
Copyright © 2012 –, Myra Nissen.
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This article was brought to you by Myra Nissen, CCH, RSHom(NA), Board Certified Classical Homeopath. Myra teaches women how to recognize their body’s unique needs and cues and uses Homeopathy to help empower women to take control of their bodies, health and well-being. Find out more, she regularly publishes articles with home care tips for health and well-being in several venues. Visit her blog www.myranissen.com/blog.