Recently, I was applauded for my kids never having been on antibiotics nor having an ear infection. There's something really troubling about that kind of praise. Afterall, that IS normal. What is not normal is this:
~More than 90% of kids have had at least 1 ear infection and 75% have had 3 or more.
~1 in 3 kids have had 3 or more ear infections by age 2 and will continue to have them until age 6.
Based on those numbers and considering I have 3 yr. old twins, I'm gonna guess one or both of my kids probably have had an ear infection and I just didn't know it. One of the symptoms of ear infections is NO symptoms. Regardless, if they did, they healed on their own.
I, on the other hand, have had numerous ear infections since I was a kid at least according to doctors. It seemed like every time I got a cold, an ear infection would follow. Each time, the doctor would look into my ear, claim infection and proceed to write me a prescription for an antibiotic. This cycle continued until about three years ago when I finally began to question this practice. Over the years of being prescribed antibiotics, I soon learned which brands did not work and there were many. So, at my most recent visit when a walk-in doctor tried to prescribe me Amoxicillin, I immediately said, "nope, it doesn't work." Those words must have hit a nerve because she got really defensive that I questioned or rather flat out refused her suggestion. She said, "fine, I'll give you Augmentin or would you rather have a Z-pak?" I could tell that was my cue to take the white piece of paper and be on my way, one less number on her list. Needless to say, I haven't been back.
I probably could have talked her into any antibiotic I wanted that day. She clearly had no other options for treatment and was quick to diagnose ear infection with no other test other than a quick look into the ear. I'm still on my search for a good family doctor and I actually know of a recommended one I will try next. However, since my studies into holistic wellness, I haven't needed to see one. :)
So here is what I've learned and what I've changed in my ear infection revelation. (This is going to be a doozy of a post, is there a character limit on blogger? :) )
Ear infections happen in infants because their eustachian tubes lie more horizontal; they're not fully developed into the more vertical position as in adults. This allows fluid to enter the ear and not be able to drain properly. If left in the ear, the fluid can become infected causing pain and pressure. This pain and pressure can become so great that eventually the eardrum will rupture thus allowing nature's way of taking over to relieve the fluid and pressure. Ear infections become less frequent as kids age and are extremely rare in adults. Ha! I seem to have ALL the rare "gifts."
Ear infections can have various symptoms like pulling at the ear, pain, redness, fever, or no symptoms at all. Redness doesn't really count in my opinion because if a child has been pulling at his ear or has been crying, of course his ear is going to be red inside and out. An instrument known as an otoscope can be used to look inside the ear for evidence of infection (or at least fluid) and a tympanogram can be used to measure if there is fluid. But, there is no definitive lab test to tell if the ear is in fact infected. To do this, one would have to puncture the membrane to test the fluid and well, I don't think many parents will offer up their child for that every time his/her ear hurts. So, it's often a doctor's guess. Statistics show that 70% of infections are viral and only 30% are bacterial. Here, let's remember that antibiotics are useless against viral infections. They're designed to kill bacteria, good and bad (you need good bacteria to aid in healthy digestion) and do nothing to rid the fluid from the ear. Yet, since the roll-out of antibiotics in 1940, they have still been largely used to treat ear infections. Consider the following:
~Studies show 80-90% of all ear infections will heal on their own without medical treatment. (that includes info from the AAP and AAFP.)
~Studies show antibiotics can actually make most ear and respiratory infections worse.
~Studies show antibiotics don't make kids feel any better in the first 24 hours compared with observation. (Because of growing antibiotic resistance, the AAP guidelines now push observation and pain relief over antibiotics for the first 48-72 hours.)
~The more antibiotics a child has had, the more likely they are to become resistant.
~Repeated use of antibiotics can lead to sensitivities and allergies.
~The sooner you take an antibiotic for an ear infection, the longer the infection will last and the more recurrences you will have.
~Studies show children who aren't given antibiotics recover faster.
~There have been no significant differences and complications found from the following treatments, 1. Antibiotics 2. Myringotomy 3. Antibiotics & Myringotomy 4. Do nothing
The antibiotic reliance is twofold. First, doctors are predominately taught to prescribe drugs. Drugs treat symptoms. Second, society has come to rely on antibiotics for everything it seems, calling it a wonder drug. Antibiotics do save lives and I for one want them available and effective if my children encounter a deadly disease. However, some parents often ASK for an antibiotic even if a doctor doesn't prescribe one. Often, if the doctor doesn't write a prescription, he is often seen as a bad doctor who didn't help the patient. So now, we have doctors diagnosing ear infections to justify giving you the prescription he believes you want to keep your business. We are a huge part of the problem!
The problem being that with this overuse of antibiotics we have created antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria learn to fight it off and become immune, so higher powered antibiotics are needed for the next round and the cycle continues until antibiotics are no longer effective. If we continue to use antibiotics indiscriminately, in the future, we won't have any effective antibiotics left to fight the more violent and deadly infections that are coming. And, there are very few new antibiotics in the making. This resistance has become of such epic proportions that now SOME doctors are beginning to axe antibiotics from treating the lesser known evils like ear infections. Instead, since the drugs no longer work, the next taught procedure to prescribe is myringotomy-tubes in the ears. Seems simple, but not quite. It doesn't always work and 64% have complications. There can be scarring of the eardrum leading to hearing and learning problems and the effects from anesthesia can be extremely risky in children. Several also debate that the risks outweigh the benefits of surgery. In my experience, not many doctors offer any other solutions other than antibiotics or surgery. But, I've uncovered a few gems in the field. I've come to believe there's always another option if you dig deep enough.
In my studies of holistic wellness, I've come across a couple of recommended books on ear infections. One is called Natural Alternatives to Antibiotics by John McKenna. This book is really quite technical, lots of big fancy words :) One of the most useful subjects in it for me was actually on how you can compensate for and repair damage done from antibiotics and also how to make them more effective if you are taking them. It was also quite informative on how you can use your diet to fight infection and of course lengthy information on the misuse of antibiotics to treat ear infections, much of what I summarized above. The other is No More Amoxicillin. Sound familiar? That's because it's written by Dr. Mary Ann Block, author of No More ADHD. :) I wish this lady was my doctor because she has quite a success story in her treatments. It's a great book on how we got to where we are with antibiotic resistant bacteria and the misuse of antibiotics to treat ear infections, again summarized above. It's also put into more simple terms and is an easy, but powerful read. Short and sweet! The best part about this book are the preventative measures we can take and the treatment she recommends known as The Block System.
Some preventatives from her book:
~keep infants head elevated while feeding (keeps fluid from washing back into ear)
~more ear infections occur in daycare situations (although not everybody can help it)
~more bottle-fed babies have ear infections; breastfeeding helps to prevent them
~secondhand smoke (even if on hair or clothes) encourages ear infections
~pacifiers if used for 12+months cause more infections, best to wean before 6 months
Her treatment plan is encouraging because it allows the parent to do something when the pain starts. You don't have to just wait it out-which is why most parents reach for the antibiotics-it's the act of doing something.
Block System Summary:
1. Develop a healthy immune system through diet and supportive herbs, and allow the body to fight, step in only when necessary.
2. Understand the structure of the ear, get an otoscope and learn to use it.
3. Treat allergies. HUGE in the treatment of ear infections! Dairy is a big cause of frequent ear infections as it promotes mucous production. I always cut milk, especially, when I notice the first sign of sickness. Also, did you know the food we crave could be the very thing that is making us sick? Other irritants can be wheat, corn, dust, mold, grass, smoke, perfume or fragrances.
4. Support gastrointestinal health-yeast overgrowth is very common and supplementation with good bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus can make a big difference.
5. Good nutrition! Especially organically grown foods.
6. Osteopathic Manipulative Treament (OMT) Huh?! :) It's easier than it sounds. I call it "massage."
This is a key exercise anyone can do on both infants and adults to help get the fluid out of the ears. It involves releasing the lymphatic ducts around the collarbone, effleurage of the head and neck through using your thumbs to guide the fluid from the head and push it away toward the heart, thoracic pump, and effleurage of the arms and legs. Sounds strange at first, but her book explains it well and includes illustrations of the process. I tried this on my kids last week when they were getting congested; they were good sports and I seemed to notice an improvement in how they felt.
FYI, I saw a used version of her book on Amazon for A PENNY! At that price, what do you have to lose?! It is an option that many chose and found great success; a second opinion to antibiotics that don't usually work and a lot cheaper and less risky of a solution to surgery!
Although, I'm still feeling out her OMT treatment and learning to do it, I'm a big believer in the power of a healthy immune system and a whole foods diet. That alone can cure many illnesses or at least set you up to fight when an illness strikes! Your body can't learn to fight if you are allowing antibiotics to do it for you. In my family, I prepare my kids by providing them with healthy fresh food. They are extremely limited on sugar (occasional treats) and artificial foods. I make sure they get plenty of sleep and exercise/outdoor play. I also use supplements to build their immune system and provide what is lacking in their food supply. When congestion occurs and a chance of ear infection is high, I also use an oil called Willow/Garlic Ear oil to support the health of their ears. Garlic, chamomile, calendula, among other herbs are natural anti-inflammatories and some are also anti-bacterial helping to relieve the swelling common in infections. When the swelling/pain is relieved, the fluid can drain and the healing quicken. I also agree that allergies play a big part in many of our illnesses and allergies continue to grow. With ear infections and other illnesses, it's important to treat the root cause and not the symptoms. Only then, will healing win.
If you're local (Franklin, TN) Vintage Remedies is currently doing a "Get Healthy!" series and October 26 is about ear infections! Come downtown and hear what founder, Jessie Hawkins, has to say on this topic. You can also subscribe to the podcast and hear this along with other great topics on getting and staying healthy!
Also, here is a YouTube video of Dr. Block discussing her treatment for ear infections.