Quick Survey: Kids' Ear Infections Don't Always Need Antibiotics
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Kids' Ear Infections Don't Always Need Antibiotics

Chronic ear infections are very common in children and one of the main reasons for repeated courses of antibiotics. Some doctors believe that children are being over-treated or treated too soon. Fortunately natural medicine can provide some useful alternatives or adjuncts to treatment.

The standard 10 day course of antibiotic treatment was chosen arbitrarily, rather than on the basis of research. Recent studies have shown the same results whether a 7, 5, 3 or even 2 day course of antibiotics is given. The studies showed no difference in recurrence rate or hearing loss.

What happens if ear infections aren't treated with antibiotics? This is a scary proposition for North American parents who have come to believe that taking antibiotics is always necessary. But to the European way of thinking, a wait and see approach may be just as safe.

Between 1950 and 1964, more than three thousand children were treated at the ear nose and throat department at a Danish hospital. Later, two doctors examined the records and analyzed the effects of early, late, or no antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics were given usually after the first week and only for threat of complications. The Danish physicians found that 88 percent of the children healed well with no antibiotics. In addition, antibiotics did not shorten the course of the disease, and even if given only when complications were present or threatening, the rate of complications was very low.

In the Netherlands, a double blind study compared children who were treated with antibiotics only, with tubes only, with both antibiotics and tubes, or with neither. According to the authors, "in the groups treated without antibiotics, the ears discharged for slightly longer and the eardrums took a little longer to heal, but these differences were not significant and no complications were seen." Dr. Van Buchem and his colleagues recommend using nose drops and pain killers for the initial management of ear infections in children and reserving antibiotics and tubes for complicated cases.

Tympanostomy or insertion of tubes into the ear drum is a surgical procedure under general anesthetic. American naturopathic physician, Dr. Michael Schmidt , author of the excellent book, Healing Childhood Ear Infections: Prevention, Home Care and Alternative Treatment (North Atlantic, 1996), presents evidence that the procedure is overused, can cause scarring and may not alter the long term course of ear infections. He concludes that tubes may still have a valuable place in well chosen severe cases.

Dr. Michael Schimdt is now a fellow at Functional Medicine Research Center in Gig Harbor, Washington where he is compiling data on the holistic treatment of ear infections.

When it comes to a natural approach, it is important to look at all the factors that could contribute to repeated infections. Important factors include one or both parents smoking, food allergies, deficiencies in essential fatty acids, vitamin-A and zinc, and environmental allergies.

The best way to determine a child's food allergies is through an elimination diet such as the one suggested in pediatrician Dr. William Crook 's book, Detecting Your Hidden Allergies (Professional Books, 1988).

Some children's recurrent ear infections will stop when they go off dairy. A six week trial off milk and cheese will tell you whether you are going in the right direction. Parents have to become like detectives to track down the hidden food allergies. Other common allergens are sugar, chocolate, peanuts, wheat, soy, citrus and eggs.

Repeated courses of antibiotics can wipe out the friendly bacteria in the gut and cause an overgrowth of yeast which can then cause digestive problems, fatigue and headaches. Treatment involves taking acidophilus capsules and natural anti-yeast remedies like garlic or grapefruit seed extract.

Children's diet these days are often poor, with a high fat and high sugar content resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Children with recurrent ear infections should take a liquid multivitamin and mineral, preferably with no sugar. Extra flaxseed or evening primrose oil can play a role in decreasing inflammation. The herbal antibiotic echinacea can also be taken once daily as a preventative.

During actual infections, whether you choose antibiotics or not, your child can take extra C, A and zinc vitamins. Echinacea drops can also be taken four to six times a day.

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