Ear infections are one of the most common topics heard among moms no matter what season of the year, but it is amplified even more during the cold winter months. Why? This blog will provide some basics for those of you who want the brief overview, but you'll be able to see diagrams and connect the dots in your child's struggles by watching the full video (about 40 minutes: attached at bottom).
1. Types of ear infections
Otitis externa: infection of the outer/external ear outside of the ear drum. Commonly known as "Swimmer's Ear," this is more prominent during the summer months from swimming in lakes, pools, or can even be from water getting stuck after a shower or bath.
Otitis media: infection of the middle ear inside of the ear drum. This is the most common reason for parents to take their child to the emergency room, urgent care, or their pediatrician's office.
Bacteria: your body is invaded by a foreign substance and has difficulty fighting it off
Virus: your body should not struggle to fight off viruses! Most ear infections are viral in nature, so antibiotic not taking care of the infection source.
2. Myths about why children get ear infections more often
a. Small Eustachian tubes. While this is true, it doesn't really tell us a lot. Virtually everything about a child is smaller than in adults, but their bodies should be able to adapt according to their developmental stage.
b. The tubes in children is more horizontal than in adults so they can’t drain fluid as well. Again, this may be true; but I believe that there’s a reason behind it. God knew exactly what he was doing when he designed us, and I’m sure there was a logical reason why the tubes are more horizontal until a certain age. One idea is that babies and younger children are not maintaining an upright position as much as we are in adulthood and therefore do not need the downward angle.
3. “Germs make you sick.”
a. the germ theory states that anytime you come in contact with a germ you are going to get that sickness. In some cases this truly happens, but it isn’t the whole story. If it were, an entire classroom would be wiped out at the same time; day cares would have to be emptied at the discovery of one child’s sickness; and you, your spouse, and ALL your children would catch the same bad bugs!
b. Instead of looking at the germ itself, we need to ask the bigger question of “What is making one child more susceptible than another?” Germs just take advantage of a weakened system that isn’t going to be able to fight off its invasion.
c. To look deeper at this susceptibility, it’s important to know about a few systems of the body and how they’re connected. For this part, you’ll definitely want to see the video for a diagram drawing! (around the 09:15 mark) Three main systems are the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems.
The endocrine system is basically hormones. For this particular conversation the endocrine doesn’t play much of a role because these young kids who battle ear infections do not yet have developed hormone systems.
The immune system, however, is a vital conversation to have. It is estimated that about 70% of our immune system lives in our gut and is controlled by our flora (a fancy word for the good bacteria). When you think about children with recurring ear infections-maybe even your child-you know they have been on numerous rounds of antibiotics. This alters that gut flora balance and therefore the immune system that resides there. The other remaining 30% lies within the connection to the nervous system.
Any time there is increased stress there is also increased susceptibility to becoming ill. This can be easily related back to finals week. I’m sure most everyone has gotten sick when they were cramming, eating junk, and not sleeping much! But, your child isn’t “stressed out” is he? Stress in kids may be a foreign concept but it’s important to look at the whole spectrum. There are 3 main types of stress: physical, chemical and emotional. The most common physical stress is definitely birth, but we can also talk about the changes taking place as they grow at rapid paces, are learning to hold their head up, roll over, crawl and walk (and fall!) and are traveling all over in a car seat. Chemical stress mostly comes down to nutrition. We know kids-especially toddlers-have their own ideas when it comes to nutrition, but this time of year they’re getting more candy and holiday food and not as many wholesome fruits and veggies. Emotional stress in our kids is actually picked up from us during pregnancy and delivery. Their nervous system is becoming wired the way mom is, so if she is stressed out the baby feels that and is learning those neural pathways; presetting them for increased susceptibility from the start.
The nervous system can be thought of as the air traffic controller of all other systems in the body. At a basic level, it can be said that it has two modes: gas pedal and brake pedal modes. Gas pedal mode is what our bodies go into when we are stressed out. It tells our bodies to “Go, Go, Go!” as if we are running for our lives; so it can also be said that this is our protective side. This is what the child’s nervous system learns if mom, or dad for that matter, have any stress going on in their lives. The brake pedal is the opposite: it is cool, calm, and collected. It is in the brake pedal mode that our rest, digest, and immune functions live. This is where growth and thriving happens. PhD cell biologist Bruce Lipton says that your body cannot be in both growth and protection mode at the same time, so when one side is amplified, the other side is shut down.
4. "Wait and see"
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the best practice in treating ear infections is to wait it out and see if the body can fight the infection itself. Thankfully many pediatricians follow this advice, but sometimes as a parent you can feel discouraged and maybe annoyed at the thought of going home empty-handed from the appointment. However, keep in mind that most ear infections are actually viral in nature so an antibiotic won't necessarily help your child fight the infection any faster. This is huge because studies are showing correlation with an increased risk of asthma with antiobiotic usage! Also remember what was mentioned earlier in that much of your immune lives in your gut so we do not want to be altering that balance of bacteria in our gut, especially if there's not an alarming bacterial infection present in the body.
5. Tensor Veli Palatini (another diagram in the video: 23:20)
As we move inward from our ear, we enter the ear canal and hit what is called the tympanic membrane, or ear drum as we know it. Surrounding the canal is a muscle called the tensor veli palatini (TVP).
Three times in which it’s especially important to check that fluid is draining via proper function of the TVP is while teething, with any sinus congestion or sniffles, and in the presence of a chest cold. Parents often have concerns that their child has an ear infection when they’re teething. This is a common confusion because the body once again is so intelligent that it sends extra fluid to the gums to soften them and prepare for the eruption of teeth. Sometimes there is alteration in that intelligent process and mucus builds up in all close areas so you may see a mix of ENT-related complaints.
Keeping in mind the intelligence in which we were made, we see that the immune system is strategically placed. First, that muscle TVP placed around the eustachian tube to drain mucus when built up. Anatomically, as we progress down from the ear, eardrum and through the canal, we next enter into the throat area. Our immune system is represented here as our adenoids. Let’s think about the ear tubes that statistically most children get. Their job is to get the built-up mucus to drain out of the ear canal. When the mucus drains inward towards the throat like it should, the next “check point” in the immune system is the adenoids. This flooding of mucus means we often see swollen tonsils next, and in many cases tonsils “needing” to be removed. Lastly, mucus that the body hasn’t been able to get rid of on its own has to go somewhere next, which we can see is the lungs.
The trend observed in our current model is children aged about 2 through 5 with ear infections and tube surgeries; then about 4-7 year old children with chronic sore throats, strep and tonsils removed; and then ages 7 through at least 12 with respiratory dysfunction such as bronchitis, asthma, etc.
This diagram has been super eye-opening for many, many parents. It helps you see that the root cause of these chronic complaints is basically a plumbing issue. If there’s something in your toilet, drain or pipe; you need to get it out! If there’s tension in your child’s neck altering the way their nervous system is talking to their muscles like the Tensor Veli Palatini and immune system, that tension needs to be removed. Pediatric-trained chiropractors do just that to get to the root of everything instead of just shunting the issue to the next location on our intelligently-designed system. Signs of poor plumbing may be stuffed sinuses, tugging at the ears, blocked tear ducts or a nagging cough that just won’t go away.
You can visit thenationalwellnessfoundation.org to find a Pediatric Chiropractor near you!