Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chronic Ear Infections - Just a Phase?

This past Sunday, I was sitting in church with the family and there was a prayer request for a little girl who would be going through surgery to put tubes in her ears because she had been suffering from chronic, multiple ear infections.  I have to say that my heart went out to her even though I had never met her before and wished that I had met her previously.  The reason is simple.  I believe that no child should have to get tubes put in their ears.

Even though the surgery seems relatively simple and harmless, you're always going to be messing with the body's natural state.  You have a barrier (ear drum) between your outer and inner ear for a reason.  One reason is so that you can hear, the other is to prevent things from getting into your inner ear.  Most of the time, tubes are put in the ears to prevent build up in the inner ear.  But why is there buildup in the first place?

What I would have told these parents to try (assuming they hadn't already) would be to get rid of the cause of the buildup.  Like so many other western medicine remedies, you treat the symptom, not the cause.  As a chiropractor, I like to treat the cause of the problem, preferably with minimally invasive procedures. 

So, what could be the cause of the buildup and chronic infections?  3 Things:

1)  Diet.  Most food that we and our children eat (mainly store bought dairy and foods with gluten) are high in sugar and cause general inflammation in our bodies.  The bacteria that are responsible for many ear infections like this.  They feed off of the excess sugar, multiply and cause our body to react by sending inflammation and mucus to the area to stop the bacteria.  many times, this inflammation, mucus, bacteria mixture travels up a tube in the back of the throat called the Eustachian Tube to the inner ear.  The tube gets blocked, more gunk builds up, and you get an inner ear infection.  So, if you get rid of the offending bacteria, no more infections right?  If only that were the case.

2)  Over Prescription of Antibiotics.  So when you take an antibiotic to kill the "bad" bacteria, it's all good right?  Wrong, you're also killing off the millions of good bacteria in your body that we referenced in an earlier post.  These good bacteria (probiotics) help fend off further infections.  When you take an antibiotic, it is ESSENTIAL to build the good bacteria back up by taking a probiotic to help fend off future infections.  Also, when you take an antibiotic, some of the bad bacteria are going to survive.  They stick around and multiply and can cause future ear infections unless further steps are taken.  When this happens, many pediatricians prescribe another and another round of antibiotics.  The circle continues until the last resort is tubes.  Or is it?

3)  Spinal Subluxation.  In the upper portion of the spine, there are nerves that travel into the ears and throat.  If there is some sort of irritation to those nerves, the area that the nerves go to will also be irritated.  This means that the ear, throat, or Eustachian Tube can be more easily irritated and more prone to ear infection.  I don't think that it's a coincidence that Dr. Stemp (the other chiropractor at Cascade Chiropractic & Massage) never had an ear infection growing up with both parents being chiropractors.

So, what would I have told the parents of this little girl?
#1)  Stop all dairy and gluten intake for your daughter for at least 6 months and supplement probiotics.
#2)  Let me take a look at her spine and ears.

At worst, it would do nothing and we would look into some other, more natural remedies.  At best, she wouldn't get ear infections anymore.  Just the thought that this might work over needing to put your child under anesthesia to have surgery would make me try it as a parent.


  1. Just as a point of clarification, do you believe in Integrative Medicine (where both western medicine and alternative medicine can be part of the Parent's health team)? If so, can you please provide a few examples (I realize there could be many, so just a few pertaining to this topic) so that parents realize that you are talking about finding the best path for their children STARTING with the least invasive to their baby's body and health?

    I agree with you, just so it is clear. I also believe in Integrative Medicine where one keeps all the options avaialable, but always to try the least intrusive options first, if there is time and the situation/condition warrants it. Obviously, if a child had a chopstick jammed in their ear, for example, I'd say GET TO THE ER!

    Your thoughts, Dr. Mike? :)
    ~Annette from Tacoma WA

  2. Annette, I do believe that integrative medicine is an essential portion of our healthcare system. However, the way that it's mainly used these days is a little backwards I think. For instance, chiropractic, massage, acupunture, etc are sometimes viewed as a last resort when I believe it should be the other way around. Try the more conservative, less invasive approach first, then go to your orthopedist, etc.

    One example I have from my personal life is when my son was quite sick from what I believe was bad breast milk from the freezer when he was younger. He had a fever, was vomiting, had diarrhea and all that good stuff. My wife and I did the more conservative things like cool baths, kepping his fluids up, and just showing him love and support. If he had gone 1 more day with his symptoms, I would have brought him in to the ER. Fortunately for him and for us, he turned the corner, got rid of the offending bug by letting his body deal with it like it knew how, and hasn't been sick like that since.