Treatment Options for Ear Infections: A Least Invasive to Most Invasive Approach

Ear infections (otitis media) are all too common among the pediatric population. And what is the status quo treatment? You probably didn’t even have to think twice on that answer. Antibiotics. There are different treatments of course, but antibiotics are the most common prescription for an ear infection. Why?
Antibiotics have been proven to have negative effects on our gut health due to their focus to destroy ALL bacteria, not just the bad bugs. And they are very effective at their job. Once they have kicked your ear infection to the curb, your gut is ready to rebuild with new bacteria. Bad gut bacteria are more than willing to step up and replenish the gut with bacteria that will feed a host of pathogens, fungi, and bacterial infections if not rebalanced by good bacteria. Maybe your gut will easily replenish the good-to-bad bacteria ratio. If you’re taking a high quality probiotic, avoiding processed foods, and getting plenty of direct sunlight daily, then your gut is likely headed to balance. If not, antibiotics have opened the door to a host of major issues. The CDC explains the issue,
“Ear infections will often get better on their own without antibiotic treatment.”
“Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful, and may lead to unwanted side effects like diarrhea, rashes, nausea, and stomach pain. More severe side effects may rarely occur; these include life-threatening allergic reactions, kidney toxicity, and severe skin reactions.”
“Each time you or your child takes an antibiotic, the bacteria that normally live in your body (on the skin, in the intestine, in the mouth and nose, etc.) are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.”

pro-vs-anti-biotics

What’s a parent of a child with an ear infection to do?
Here is a hierarchy of treatments for Ear Infections. I am a parent, not a medical professional. Take any information learned here to your provider to create an individualized plan for your child that better reflects your wishes to use antibiotics as a last resort.

1. Prevention.
Well that seems simple and maybe irritating advice. Parents are thinking, “Don’t you think if I knew how to prevent ear infections I would?!” Well, have you tried these evidence-based otitis media preventers?
Risk factors: exposure to second hand smoke, bottle fed instead of breastfed, poor nutrition and wellness habits.

Mother nursing son

So, breastfeeding baby, keeping baby’s diet as organic and whole-food-based (i.e. not squeezy pouches), and avoiding exposures to well known toxins such as smoke will give you the leg up to maintaining baby’s wellness. Vitamin supplementation and probiotics have also been found to provide overall health benefit and reduce ear infection occurrences.

2. Treatment Options
The following have evidence-based literature to support their use in successful treatment of otitis media.
Homeopathy (This article can help you determine which remedy fits)
Osteopathic/Chiropractic manipulations
Xylitol
Probiotics
Acupuncture
Naturopathy

tug-in-ear So finding a good Bodyworker that will adjust your child at the first signs of ear tugging has research-proven benefits. Ask other parents which Alternative Medicine providers treat children regularly in your area.

More tried-and-true treatment options to look into:

onionwoman02Garlic Mullein Oil (excellent ear infection discussion and garlic Mullein info here)
Onion over the ear
Hydrogen Peroxide solution (sometimes referred to as Swimmer’s Ear– *for specific types of ear infections*)
Essential Oils (This article discusses which oils based on the research)
Colloidal Silver
Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET)

3. Managing Ear Pain
For a parent of a child with an ear infection, pain management is crucial because baby is miserable.

ear infection
“Treatment of the ear pain early in the course of [Acute Otitis Media] decreases both parental anxiety and the child’s discomfort and accelerates the healing process.”
This study concluded, “that in cases of ear pain caused by AOM in children in which active treatment, besides a simple 2- to 3-day waiting period, is needed, an herbal extract solution may be beneficial.” They found that the group randomly assigned to naturopathic ear drops had better pain management and resolution than the group assigned anesthetic ear drops with amoxicillin.
The Naturopathic Herbal Extract Ear Drops they used in their double-blind study contained “allium sativum, verbascum thapsus, calendula flores, hypericum perfoliatum, lavender, and vitamin E in olive oil. 5 drops 3 times daily.”
Other pain management options include essential oils, homeopathy, bodywork, and Garlic Mullein Oil.

4. Chronic Ear Infections
This beast deserves its own separate article. Please read Curing Recurrent Ear Infections to learn more.
An excerpt… “I keep treating my child, but their ear infections continue to reoccur.” The number one question that I believe gets missed too frequently and is critical to stopping chronic ear infections is: Why?
Your provider does a great job of identifying the ‘What’ –type and severity of ear illness. This article gives you resources to tackle ‘How’ to treat. But figuring out the ‘Why’ is going to require detective work on your part.
Chronic ear infections are caused by two things:
• structural abnormalities (i.e. babies with Down Syndrome or other genetic disorders have small ear structures that may be inverted and poorly move fluid out)
• environmental triggers that create inflammation resulting in increased fluid
Common environmental triggers include foods, pet dander, secondhand smoke exposure, and any other things that cause an increase in your individual body’s inflammatory response. An Audiologist and/or ENT would be the professional to diagnose structural abnormalities as a potential cause of recurrent ear infections.

 

“But my Pediatrician is strongly urging me to go with the antibiotics, what should I do?”

I can’t tell you what is best for your child, but this article can help you identify resources to give you confidence in your decision-making. Because it is ultimately your decision.
Does your child meet the *now stricter* guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics to properly diagnose otitis media and avoid antibiotic overuse?
“The [2013 revised] guideline provides a specific, stringent definition of AOM [Acute Otitis Media]. It addresses pain management, initial observation versus antibiotic treatment, appropriate choices of antibiotic agents, and preventive measures.”
Additionally, “The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery guidelines recommend topical medications as the first line of treatment for ear pain in the absence of systemic infection or serious underlying disease.”
Are you aware of the risks versus benefits of choosing antibiotics. I will repeat the CDC’s position statement:

“Ear infections will often get better on their own without antibiotic treatment.”
“Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful, and may lead to unwanted side effects like diarrhea, rashes, nausea, and stomach pain. More severe side effects may rarely occur; these include life-threatening allergic reactions, kidney toxicity, and severe skin reactions.”
“Each time you or your child takes an antibiotic, the bacteria that normally live in your body (on the skin, in the intestine, in the mouth and nose, etc.) are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.”

Have you exhausted this hierarchy of treatment options?
Does your child show signs of a serious infection or illness that the ear infection is a part of?
The next step is Trust Your Doctor. You have followed the current best practice guidelines for ear infection treatment. Feel confident that you have done everything in your power to use antibiotics as a last resort. Some of you may get to the end of the list and need antibiotics. That’s what they were created for. Let them do their job, and feel confident and optimistic that you can replenish your child’s gut with good probiotic bacteria during and after antibiotics use.

Happy Healing!