Little Ears: Ear Infections in Children
By Julie Ormonde, MS, LAc
||Ear infections are a frequent trouble for children. Almost
two thirds of children will have at least one ear infection
by the time they are 2 years old. Some children can have up
to 20 infections in their first year.
With such extreme statistics, we need to find a way to not only
treat these infections, but also prevent them. Simply giving penicillin
is not enough, and often is neither necessary nor medically indicated.
What Is It?
An ear infection is also known as Acute Otitis Media (AOM). It
involves the middle ear and the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian
tube is a long tube that connects the ear to the nose and throat.
This tube allows for the drainage of fluids out of the middle
ear. When the tube is blocked, often from a respiratory or sinus
infection, fluid builds in the middle ear. This fluid is a fertile
ground for bacterial growth (infection). However, one quarter
of ear infections are viral, not bacterial, which we will look
at more below in terms of treatment.
In small children, the tube is shorter and more horizontal, thus
reducing drainage and encouraging fluid build up. As the child
grows, the Eustachian tube becomes longer and more vertical.
What Does It Look Like?
The first complaint usually a severe earache. Other symptoms
may include fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Infants and
toddlers who are unable to communicate will tug, hit, or rub their
ears and may be irritable.
If you notice the following symptoms, your child should be seen
by a physician immediately: severe fever with inability to move
their neck, redness and/or swelling around the ear, headache,
sudden hearing loss, or dizziness. Drainage and sudden pain relief
can indicate eardrum rupture - though the child may seem better,
they must be seen.
Who Gets It?
Those most susceptible usually are babies and children born with
birth defects, cleft palate, and impaired immune systems. There
appears to be a familial correlation, and boys contract them more
than girls do.
Most ear infections appear after an upper respiratory or sinus
infection. The fluid build up fluid from these types of infections
is often very thick and easily blocks the Eustachian tube.
Cigarette smoke has been shown to cause ear infections, and it
makes existing infections get worse and last longer. If you smoke,
do your child a favor and don't smoke near them.
Because of the length and position of the Eustachian tube, bottle-feeding
(especially lying down) allows for fluids to drain directly into
the middle ear. It is, therefore, very important to feed your
baby on its side facing you (simulate breastfeeding with a bottle),
or sitting up. This brings up the subject of breastfeeding versus
formula. Formula-fed babies are 70% percent more likely to get
an ear infection than breastfeed babies. Two advantages of breastfeeding
are positioning and natural, immune-enhancing antibodies.
Also consider food allergies as a cause. Children, especially
those who have issues with dairy, may have an affinity to thick
fluid build up.
How Do You Prevent Ear Infections?
- Limited pacifier use
- Gently blow noses, holding the nostrils shut while blowing
can encourage fluid back into the ears
- Eliminate dairy foods and spicy foods
- Vaccination. Vaccines are controversial. Some studies have
shown that, while they do not specifically prevent ear infections,
vaccines prevent illnesses caused by organisms that are associated
with ear infections, such as Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) and
Influenza. In a recent large study, the pneumococcal vaccine
Prevnar reduced the number of ear infections caused by the pneumococcal
bacteria by 34% and the overall number of ear infections by
7%. Whereas another recent study stated that the influenza vaccine
did not affect the occurrence of ear infections in children
aged 6 to 24 months. The pros and cons of vaccines need to be
carefully weighed by the individual parent. The great vaccine
debate will be left for another article, but is brought up here
only as an option.
If the child is under 2 years old, or is at risk for complications
from infection, the doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics.
Although this is changing, there are still quite a few doctors
who prescribe antibiotics for all ear infections. It is difficult
to tell which ear infections bacteria cause, and which ones are
caused by viruses and will clear up on their own. It is now known
though, that bacterial ear infections often do not require antibiotics
to heal. Other doctors ask parents to watch their child for a
couple of days. If the child starts to improve (80% of infections
clear on their own, regardless of the cause) then no treatment
is given. At home the parent can give Tylenol, Advil or Motrin
(note - please double-check all dosages of any medicine before
administering to children). Decongestants, antihistamines, and
other nonprescription cold remedies are usually not effective.
As an interesting side note, children who have had two ear infections
within 3 months are more likely to have another ear infection,
especially if the infection was treated with antibiotics.
Chinese Medicine Treatment
The following points can be firmly pressed with your index finger
and/or massaged to facilitate the healing process. You may additionally
massage around the ear, but you will need to have a softer touch,
as this area will likely be sensitive.
Points and Massage
· LI4 - In the soft web area of the hand between the thumb
and the index area, massage with your thumb on top of the child's
hand and your index finger below
· ST44 - At the base of the 2nd toe, at the web
· SJ5 - two of the child's finger widths above the wrist
on the dorsal side of the arm (opposite the forearm)
· GB20 - massage the whole width of the base of the skull,
paying particular attention to the outer edges
If the following are present add corresponding points:
P6 - this point is located directly opposite of SJ5 on the inside
of the wrist
Rub lightly down from the ribs down the length of the belly
Use a counterclockwise circular massage around the navel
Shi Xuan - tips of the fingers, you can use the tip of your nail
to push into this area child permitting
Use moderate pressure to rub in a straight line from the wrist
to the elbow on the forearm. This needs to be done for as long
as the child will allow up to 250 times. You can also use alcohol
to help disperse heat.
Yin Tang - directly between the eyebrows
Please see a practitioner for individual herbal advice. Herbs
will vary depending on the symptoms.
It is best to avoid greasy and phlegm producing foods, such as
bananas, avocados, peanuts, cheese, milk and cold foods. You may
also try eliminating spicy foods to see if that makes a difference.
Only certain types of ear infections are related to spicy foods,
but it is worth it to try to eliminate these. Not only will this
let you know if these are particular foods your child should not
have in general, but it will speed healing.
Other Natural Remedies
- Apply heat to the ear with a warm washcloth
- Encourage rest
- Use herbal remedies:
- Echinacea (antiviral) and Goldenseal (antibacterial) can be
helpful at the onset of symptoms.
- Garlic oil and/or Mullein flower oil drops, 1-2 drops, 3 to
5 times a day. Heat the oil to body temperature or slightly
higher and drop into the ear with your child lying on his or
If after a couple of days you are not seeing a positive response,
it would be best to take your child into a Chinese Medicine practitioner
I encourage you to see one from the onset of symptoms,
as this will help the child heal faster and be in less pain.
Remember that the best medicine is preventive and that is what
Chinese Medicine is ultimately designed to be.
Julie Ormonde M.S., L.Ac.
AcuMama at cox dot net (spelled out to avoid spam email harvesters)
*Please note chronic and other types of ear infections are not
in the scope of this paper.
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Zoffel LM, Fabian IA, Bernard BS, Kerr JD. Effectiveness of
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