Ear Infections and Chiropractic

by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen

Ear Infections and Chiropractic

Stressed-out parents, is this situation all too familiar? Your child is in a rotten mood. Cranky and crabby, this is not the baby who otherwise seemed to coo with happiness at the sight of you. Now you feel like her worst enemy. Even the Itsy Bitsy Spider song is making no difference whatsoever. Surprise (not!!)  you’re heading into yet another sleepless night consisting of forty thousand trips to the nursery to calm down a fussy certain somebody. With rings under your eyes, telltale trademarks of new parents, you’re begging for some rest so you can function like a normal human being again.

Now you begin to put the pieces together: The little one is tugging at her ears and she stubbornly leans away from you when you touch her neck or head. Too young to speak; she is definitely telling you she doesn’t feel well. Because she’s drooling like a wild thing and running a slight fever, you decide it’s time to go to the pediatrician AGAIN. Does that doctor offer frequent flier reward points for the number of hours you’ve spent in that waiting room in the past year? The verdict is the same: ear infection. As usual, the treatment is familiar: numerous rounds of antibiotics. If those don’t work, the threat of tubes and surgery looms heavily. It feels like Ground Hog Day because the situation of having a sick child, trips to the doctor and more drugs will repeat itself again and again.

Parents, you are not alone. Reoccurring ear infections (otitis media) account for over 35% of all pediatrician visits in the US with over 10 million new cases diagnosed each year making ear infections the most common illness affecting babies and young children. The standard treatment consists of antibiotics which are only marginally effective if the cause is bacterial in origin, and will have no effect if the infection is due to a virus. Repeat rounds of antibiotics not only upset the natural balance of “good bacteria” in the child’s gastrointestinal tract required for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, they also lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria which may then require stronger doses of drugs to combat. Tubes, for many, are the last resort. However, putting a young child under anesthesia for surgery is a risk most parents are hesitant to take. Perforating the eardrum with a tube creates scar tissue, making the eardrum less sensitive which may result in slight hearing loss. Spending half of your day at a doctor’s office with an irritable child, not to mention the expense of examinations and drugs, gets to be aggravating, right?

More and more parents are considering gentle pediatric chiropractic care for their kids as an alternate and less-invasive treatment of ear infections. And you thought the chiropractor only dealt with bad backs? Wrong! Let’s consider a few situations.

When a child is teething, those sharp little points push through the delicate gums stirring up bacteria, similar to specks of sawdust as a drill bores through wood. It doesn’t take much for the bacteria to migrate from the mouth to the sinuses and eventually finding refuge in a perfect breeding ground – the darkness of the inner ear. What’s that drooling and the runny nose all about? It’s the natural reaction your baby’s body has to flush away bacteria. And the fever? Again, the immune system creates an elevation in body temperature so that bacteria either die or cease to reproduce. Pretty smart? Huh?

Let it be understood that chiropractors do not fix or treat specific conditions. Rather, the purpose of chiropractic care is to restore the nerve system, the mac daddy internet system which controls every muscle, gland and organ, to a state of balance so that the body can react to internal and external stress appropriately. A nerve system can become irritated in three ways. 1) Emotional stress (reactions to worry, fear, anxiety) 2) Chemical stress (reactions to medicines, foods, chemicals, pollutants) 3) Physical stress (damage due falls, accidents, poor posture). Simply put, if the nerve system is stressed, the immune system, digestive system and every other system in the body will not receive the proper messages from the brain, nor will these systems communicate back with the brain clearly. Garbage in, garbage out – so to speak. By removing interference from the nerve system, the body will work better which among many positive reactions,  supports a healthier immune system.

Doctors of chiropractic who specialize in pediatric care have a significant interest in how the birth process may have caused irritation to an infant’s cervical (neck) neurology. The stress on a baby’s neck, skull and shoulders during delivery can be traumatic, especially during a c-section, forceps, vacuum or difficult delivery. Even during a “normal” vaginal birth, the twisting and turning of the neck may cause damage to the delicate spine. Nerves branch from the spinal cord through small holes (foramen) of the spinal bones (vertebrae). If the spine is not in alignment, much like hinges in a door, the exiting nerves are slightly pinched. If you have ever had a Charlie horse, so to speak, you will understand how irritated nerves cause muscles go into spasm. Therefore, if the muscles in the neck are tight, constricted lymph nodes (embedded in musculature) will not drain waste products from the immune system (including bacteria) effectively. In addition, nerve irritation will cause the Eustachian tubes of the ear to constrict further impeding drainage from the inner ear. The result is a congested sewer system of mucus and flourishing bacteria that has no place to go. Though antibiotics may temporarily kill a portion of the bacteria, they do not address the underlying cause of the ear infections.

A chiropractor who is trained to analyze the spinal biomechanics of a child will carefully evaluate a young patient for abnormalities in posture, range of motion, symmetry, and muscle function. X-rays are not required. In my office, the kids are so distracted by fun toys, a soothing environment, and other children that the exam feels more like playtime!  Based on the exam findings, the chiropractor will gently adjust the child’s spine in the specific areas where the spinal bones are out of alignment with the index finger or the pinkie. The adjustment itself is a very light touch. (Imagine the amount of pressure you would use to on your eyelid.) There is no cracking, twisting or popping, contrary to conventional misunderstandings. From my eleven years of experience in pediatric chiropractic, typically the ear infections clear up within 5-10 visits. The adjustments relieve irritation to the nerves, the cervical muscles and the Eustachian are able to relax, and the bacteria-filled fluid can drain effectively.

Parents: If you are tired of drugs, surgery and countless trips to the pediatrician, you might want to schedule an appointment for your child with a pediatric chiropractor and find out if this type of care is appropriate. Opening your eyes to new solutions might be the answer to a happier and healthier family!