How do ear infections happen?
1. Antibiotic use – If a child received antibiotics when they were young, maybe a C-section birth or an initial infection, then that can disrupt the gut flora and predispose them to becoming more susceptible to ear infections as they grow older.
2. Food allergies – It is very interesting to think of this one. The middle ear infections are often the result of food sensitivity. It is different for everyone, but in each individual, certain foods have the capacity to trigger the production of fluid in the middle ear cavity and/or the Eustachian tube. And because fluid formed in this way it makes an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, causing ear infections.
3. Disrupted gut microbiome – This can happen with overuse of antibiotics or using it when it isn’t necessary. Our bodies produce beneficial bacteria that everyone needs. 75% to 80% of the immune cells in the body are in the gut, so if there are changes to your gut microbiome that is going to affect your immunity and ability to fight off these ear infections.
4. Low vitamin D levels – In one study, out of 116 kids, the average had low vitamin D levels. The commonly recognized range is 30, while most of these kids had levels of 15, 18, and 20. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the immune function.
No sugar, please!
The over-consumption of sugar is also a big problem. It drops the immune system, so reducing resistance to bacterial infections. Reducing sugar in the diet will certainly improve immune function and is likely to reduce the long-term risk of getting ear infections.
In the past decade or so, there has been a lot more learned about the microbial ecosystem that resides in every healthy large intestine. For one thing, there are thousands of bacterial strains that live within the large intestine. We have adapted to it so well that it would be difficult to live without them. They create vitamins, provide training to our immune systems and even guide the development of our tissues. Antibiotics decimate this gut-microbe ecosystem. It begins to bounce back within a few days but there is a chance that it could take up to a month or more to regain its former numbers.
Antibiotics and Grommets (ear tubes)
Ear infections are the most common childhood infection after colds and flu. There is a growing concern that the widespread use of antibiotics that are used to treat ear infections are leading to an increase in resistant bacteria. Several studies have suggested that treating ear problems with antibiotics has little or no benefit compared to doing nothing at all.
This doesn’t mean that antibiotics aren’t necessary. They can be lifesaving. They have to be used in certain cases, but what we shouldn’t do is to prescribe them in situations where they’re not likely to be effective. Overuse of antibiotics can cause a significant change to our microbiome and eliminate certain species of gut flora that has been living in our guts for millions of years, and has passed down from generation to generation. As human beings we have 10 times more bacterial cells than we do human cells.
Grommets are a small plastic tube which is surgically inserted in the eardrum under anesthesia. They usually stay in place from 6 months or longer. The reason for grommets is to help drain chronic ear fluid to the back of the throat and down the Eustachian tube.
How to prevent and treat ear infections
We first want to eliminate any food triggers that could be causing these recurring ear infections. We want to fix the gut, improve the levels of beneficial bacteria, and strengthen the immune system. Start by removing gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and all grains from their diet for a period of time and see if it makes a difference.
Another treatment is a nasal spray called Xlear, which is a xylitol-based nasal spray. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that breaks down biofilm, which is a group of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other on a surface. When biofilm forms, it makes it really hard for the immune system to get rid of whatever’s in that biofilm. Xlear breakes it up so our immune system can deal with those pathogens.
An alternative to antibiotic eardrops, there is garlic and mullein oil that has a soothing effect on the ear. It is mixed in a base of olive oil with garlic and mullein, which are both antimicrobial. You warm it up slightly, put it in a pan with some hot water then put a few drops of oil in the ear.
Use immune stimulants to strengthen immunity such as elderberry and Echinacea. Then of course, vitamin C, which you can use up to 400 mg in a 1 to 3-year-old. Also try eating foods like bell peppers, papaya, guava, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, kale and other leafy greens that are high in vitamin C. Fermented cod liver also has high levels of vitamin A, retinol, vitamin D, EPA, DHA and also vitamin K, which plays a role in immune function. This will strengthen the immune system.