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Those Pesky Ear Infections – The Science

Those pesky ear infections

The most common ear infection is that of the middle ear. Its fancy name is otitis media. It is a common affliction if you happen to be a child under the age of three. In most cases, ear pain is caused by pressure that develops when something interferes with the drainage of the Eustachian tube. This is the tube that runs from your ear to your throat. When you hold your nose and blow while in an airplane, it is the Eustachian tube in which you are trying to force air to “pop” your ears and relieve pressure.

So what causes it? 

Earaches usually occur when something interferes with Eustachian tube drainage. Small children seem to love shoving various objects into their ears. An object lodged into the ear can contribute to an earache. Infection can block the Eustachian tube. More times than not infection is the assumed culprit. However, earaches can occur even when the fluid inside the ear is completely sterile, or free from the creeping crud. Earaches can be the result of referred pain from spasm of the muscles in the front of the neck, specifically the SCM muscle. Nerves going to these muscles arise from the spinal segments in the upper neck area. Like all joints in the spine, if the upper neck joints are injured they will not retain the movement they once had as a healthy joint. If a joint does not move, fluid tends to collect in the form of swelling. Swelling can put pressure on nerves arising from the spinal cord. Also, the Eustachian tube in children tends to be more level than in an adult. As a child begins to mature the Eustachian tube tends to slope downward facilitating drainage. Coupling a level Eustachian tube with little joint movement in the upper neck area is a recipe for decreased drainage and possible earaches. This may be one reason why children tend to grow out of ear infections. Chiropractic research associates adults with sinus problems and ringing in the ears with upper neck problems as well. Interestingly, many adults with these types of problems have a past history of childhood earaches (OM).

Chiropractic Management 

Chiropractors do not specifically treat ear infections. Chiropractors look for injured joints causing nerve pressure. Normalizing joint function and relieving nerve pressure helps facilitate the body to heal itself. As with many health problems, chiropractic research points to specific areas of the spine associated with chronic earaches. This does not necessarily mean that your chiropractor will adjust those areas, just that special attention is given to these areas of the spine upon analysis.

Alternative Management 

Earaches have multiple causes. However, the standard approach tends to treat earaches with antibiotics, steroids, antihistamines and/or decongestants. A major concern today is the number of drug resistant bacteria with the continued indiscriminant use of antibiotics. A double blind study of 171 children with earaches (OM) was performed. The children were divided into four groups. One group was treated with surgery; a second with antibiotics, a third with a combo of surgery/antibiotics and a fourth group received no treatment. The recovery time for all children was approximately the same whether surgical, antibiotic or no intervention at all.

Other Stuff 

Breast-feeding seems to help prevent the occurrence of ear aches. A Mother passes her own immune system antibodies to her baby via breast milk. 81 out of 104 children with earaches (OM) had allergies to food—1/3 to cow’s milk, 1/3 to wheat. When the food was removed (4 months), 70 of the children improved. When these same children were given the food back, earaches (OM) worsened. Infant formula often contains sugars, particularly corn syrup, which some infants have a difficult time digesting. Compound this with antibiotics (destroy the normal bacteria in the bowel) and it could lead to problems such as diarrhea and ear infections.

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