Ear Infections (Otitis Media) and Hearing Problems
It has been estimated that 75 percent of all children suffer from some type of ear infection before they reach the age of three. Typically, when your child gets an ear infection, you go to the doctor and expect to get a prescription for an antibiotic. Many people would be disappointed if the doctor did not prescribe an antibiotic and wanted to treat the problem naturally. It is important to remember, though, that if an antibiotic is prescribed, it must be taken for the full course of the therapy. Stopping early may increase bacterial resistance.
Research has proven that 90 percent of all ear infections will heal on their own without antibiotic therapy. In some cases, administering an antibiotic may actually cause the infection to last longer. The most common types of ear infections (especially in children) are otitis media and external otitis.
Otitis media is better known as the common middle ear infection. The site of this infection is behind the eardrum, where the small bones of the ears are located. When the eustachian tube (located from the nasal cavity to the ear canal) gets clogged with phlegm or mucous, there is an increased chance that bacteria or viruses get into this space and cause an infection. As fluid builds up, the area becomes inflamed, causing a sensation of pressure. Other symptoms include earache; sharp, throbbing, dull pain; a feeling of fullness in the ear; and a fever as high as 103°F or higher. A severe middle ear infection can cause perforation of the eardrum, resulting in hearing loss and the discharge of bloody fluid from the ear.
Also known as swimmer’s ear, external otitis affects the outer ear. It may be preceded by an upper respiratory infection or an allergic reaction to some food, most commonly dairy products. Symptoms can include slight fever; discharge from the ear; pain and throbbing; and sensitivity if the earlobe is pulled or touched.
An estimated 28 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss. This statistic is reported by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. They add that hearing loss affects more than half of all people over the age of 65, making it the third most common chronic disorder among the elderly. One noted study proved that magnesium treatment was effective in treating sudden hearing loss.
There is little doubt that lifestyle and nutrition play a major role in poor hearing as the years and decades roll by, although heredity also appears to be a factor. Adequate blood flow is a key component to sharp hearing, and any impediment to blood flow will result in poor circulation to the inner ear and deprive cells of nutrition. Another cause of hearing loss can be high homocysteine levels that promote cardiovascular disease and can injure the tiny blood vessels in the ear. In addition, harmful free-radicals in the environment (toxins, pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides, drugs, radiation, etc.) and excessive noise can also damage the blood cells and nerve cells of the inner ear.
In practically every case, food allergies play a huge role in the incidence and reoccurrence of ear infections. The most common food allergens for children include dairy products, wheat and gluten, nuts, corn, eggs, oranges, and fruit juices (refined sugar). However, in my practice I see food allergies more than any other problem, with about 80 percent of all food allergies due to dairy products and wheat. In addition, 80 percent of the dairy/wheat allergies are due to dairy (cow’s milk.)
According to well-known natural physician Julian Whitaker, M.D., “Milk allergies are very common in children. They are the leading cause of the chronic ear infection that plague up to 40% of all children under the age of six.” James Balch, M.D. agrees. In Prescription for Nutritional Healing he notes, “If a bottle-fed baby has an ear infection, eliminate milk and dairy products from the child’s diet for thirty days to see if any benefits result . . . a cause of frequent ear infections in children is food allergies.” Infants and children who are not getting cow’s milk into their systems usually don’t suffer from this painful condition.
It is critical that the intake of dairy products be significantly reduced; however, I see little need to eliminate them completely (see the Elimination Diet). Consuming a moderate amount of yogurt, skim milk, and butter may be fine, but large amounts of cow’s milk (give the baby or child soy milk, rice, or nut milk instead), cheese, pizza and ice cream will assuredly cause some problem, if not with the ears, then most likely with the bowels. If we dismiss the notion of food allergies, and just recognize what foods are most mucous forming, dairy products are first, then sugar, meat, and eggs. Encourage children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Noted natural physician Dr. Alan R. Gaby recommends eliminating sugar and other refined carbohydrates, then identifying and eliminating, or desensitizing, food allergies. The vast majority of children (80 to 90 percent) treated for their food allergies never have a chronic problem with ear infections again.
Eating a healthy diet (adequate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and quality proteins) is a major factor in improving blood flow that will eventually lead to better hearing.
For Ear Infections
- VITAMIN C with BIOFLAVONOIDS (Quercetin)
This is an essential vitamin needed to maintain proper immune function and prevent ear infections by enhancing eustachian tube drainage. Vitamin C has always been used to help fight the common cold and reduce inflammation. Dosage: Children over 2-3 years old can safely take 250-500 mg daily. Adults: 1,000-3,000 mg. daily.
- VITAMIN A
This is a valuable fat-soluble vitamin that boosts immunity and increases resistance to infection. Supplementation in moderate doses can increase the number of immune cells and strengthen mucous membranes. Dosage: 2,500-5,000 IU daily. Since vitamin A is fat-soluble it can be toxic at high levels. Limit use to 4-6 months.
- ZINC LOZENGES
Zinc will quicken immune response and aid in reducing infection. Supplementation with zinc at the first sign of a cold will help to prevent the virus from moving up the eustachian tube into the ear canal. Dosage: 10 mg in lozenge form 3-4 times a day for 5-7 days.
Although it is not widely used in the United States, homeopathy is popular in many other countries and offers a viable alternative to antibiotics. Three of the common homeopathic remedies used are Belladonna, Capsicum, and Kalium bichromicum. Dosage: As directed on package.
These are collections of “good” bacteria that help to balance the flora of the intestines, thus reducing the risk of infection. Probiotics are especially needed with and after the use of an antibiotic since in addition to killing harmful bacteria, antibiotics also kill beneficial bacteria. The most common and safe probiotics used in children and infants are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifudis. Use live probiotics when possible and keep in the refrigerator. Dosage: As directed on package.
- MULTI-VITAMIN/MINERAL FORMULA
A multi-vitamin and mineral formula will aid in boosting a child’s immune system over time. The extra minerals and B vitamins are essential for healing. In addition, because of today’s typical American diet filled with processed food, refined sugar, and trans-fats (adding to overwhelming nutrient depletion), taking a daily vitamin is highly recommended. Dosage: As directed on package.
This herb minimizes bacteria that may cause ear infections and has a mild antibiotic effect. Echinacea can be utilized for 7-10 days in an acute, painful infection, or it may be taken on a more regular basis to help boost the immune system. See a qualified health practitioner before using on a long-term basis. Dosage: Use the tincture form and dose as directed on the bottle for acute antibacterial and some antibiotic effect. Safe at all ages.
- GARLIC EAR DROPS
Garlic has strong antibacterial and some antibiotic properties. A few drops can act as a potent antimicrobial. Some health stores have garlic oil drops. Use only as directed on the bottle.
- COLLOIDAL SILVER
Colloidal silver functions as a natural antibiotic, and it also has excellent anti-viral activity. It can be taken orally (a few drops under the tongue as directed for the age of the child), or it can be used as an ear wash. Dosage: As directed on label.
- Place a HOT WATER BOTTLE over the ear to help ease the pain.
- COMPOUNDED EAR FORMULA of tea tree oil (3 drops); lavender essential oil (5 drops); and chamomile essential oil (1 drop). Mix the listed essential oils in warm olive oil. Soak a cotton ball in the mixture and plug ear loosely.
For Hearing Loss
- B COMPLEX VITAMINS
Both low levels of B vitamins (especially poor intake of folic acid and vitamins B12 and B6) and elevated homocysteine levels (see HOMECYSTEINE) are strongly associated with age-related hearing loss. High homocysteine may interfere with blood circulation to the principal structure of the inner ear. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily.
Magnesium treatment has been repeatedly sown to reduce the incidence of both temporary and permanent noise-induced hearing loss. Magnesium is safe and convenient adjunct therapy to improve hearing. Dosage: 400-600 mg daily, reduce if diarrhea occurs.
- VITAMIN B12
It has been found that individuals with hearing loss had vitamin B12 levels 48% lower than those with normal hearing. Vitamin b12 maintains protective myelin coatings surrounding nerve cells in the inner ear. Dosage: 1,000-2,000 mcg daily.
- FOLIC ACID
Researchers have found that individuals with poor hearing have levels of folic acid 43% lower than those with normal hearing. Dosage: 400-800 mcg daily.
- COENZYME Q10
Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that is effective in boosting the immune system and improving circulation to the ears. Dosage: 30-100 mg daily.
- N-ACETYLCYSTEINE (NAC)
This antioxidant may help to protect against noise-related hearing loss. Dosage: 500-1,000 mg daily.
- GINKGO BILOBA
This ancient herb has a vasodilatory (increasing circulation) effect to the ear, and it may be helpful in alleviating age-related hearing loss. Dosage: 60-200 mg daily.
Deficiencies of this mineral have been linked to ear disorders, including hearing loss. Dosage: 10-20 mg daily.
- COLLOIDAL SILVER
Colloidal silver has excellent anti-viral as well as modest antibiotic activity. It can be used under the tongue (as directed on package) or as ear drops to treat inflammation and infection.
Resveratrol is a proanthocyanidin found in relative abundance not only in grapes and red wine, but also in raisins and grape juice. It is sold as a nutritional supplement and has positive activity in improving circulation in conditions such as hearing loss, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cardiovascular problems. It may be used in combination with ginkgo. Dosage: As directed.
- VITAMIN E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to block destruction caused by free radicals. It also improves circulation. Dosage: 200-800 IU daily.
Balach, PA, Balch, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third edition. Penguin-Putman, NY. 2000.
Block, MA. Ear Infections & bacterial Resistance. Kids’ Korner, reprinted by Nature’s Impact 1998.
Challem, J. Help for Hearing. Letsliveonline.com, November. 2004.
Gaby, AR. Notes at Nutritional Conference, 1996, Seattle, WA.
LaValle, J. Ear Infection Compound. Natural Choices, Life-scan Center, 1997.
Nageris, BI. Magnesium Treatment for Sudden Hearing Loss. Alternative Medicine Review, December 2004. 9(4): P. 455.
Stengler, M. Ear Infections: A Parent’s Guide. Alive #212, June 2000. P. 47.
Whitaker, J. Health & Healing, October, 1998, 8(10): P. 11.
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