Ear Infection Causes: Hyper-Active Immune System
Dr. Michael Schmidt, Professor of Applied Biochemistry and Clinical Nutrition at Northwestern College in Bellingham, Washington, states that only 2-3% of children with earache complaints in a University of Pennsylvania study actually had enough bacteria in their ears to qualify as infection. The rest of the children were suffering from general inflammation. It is his opinion that diet and stress are the most likely sources of earaches.
According to Dr. Schmidt, chronic untreatable earaches can often be the result of an over-reactive immune system. If your child eats too many fatty acids (such as safflower and corn oils), the immune system (which is regulated in part by fatty acid balance) may mistakenly launch an attack on a nonexistent invader, resulting in inflammation. Give flax, olive, walnut or pumpkin oils and watch for improvement. Be sure your child actually has a bacterial infection if you plan to use antibiotics.
Ear Infection Causes: Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)
In the Journal of IAPM, 1983, Paul Yanick, Jr., Ph.D. discusses how blood sugar is related to inner ear dysfunction. The blood supply system of the inner ear has the highest energy requirements of any organ in the body and glucose is the chief energy substrate of this network. Even minute variations in the amount of glucose utilized can disrupt the hearing process. Additionally, the structure and metabolism of nerve cells, their energy supply and functional integrity are all related to the constant availability of nutrients.
Prolonged blood sugar fluctuations can cause progressive problems in the middle ear, and can lead to imbalances of the inner ear fluids, and even to hearing loss. The fluids of the inner ear are chiefly composed of sodium and potassium. Stress, coffee, tea, and colas drain potassium and disrupt inner ear fluid balance. Stress causes the release of adrenaline, which raises the blood sugar and causes the blood vessels of the inner ear to constrict. Having the right balance of sodium and potassium is extremely important, because inner ear fluids feed a large portion of the sensory cells in the ears.
Ear Infection Causes: Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium also plays a significant role in the proper function of the inner ear. Magnesium is important to enzymatic function and circulatory health. Dr. Yanick found that ear infection symptoms decreased as the biochemistry of the body was brought into balance. He advises using the enzyme forms of magnesium and synchronized, whole nutrient complexes rather than amino acid chelates of magnesium or other commercially available chelates such as gluconate, citrate, aspartate, etc.
Ear Infection Causes: Second-Hand Smoke
Second-hand smoke can push children with ear problems toward infections by creating pollutant-filled air that can lead to Eustachian tube congestion. Soot and smoke from a wood-burning stove can also load the air with toxins. Being exposed to smoke can reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by nearly one-third, according to the Journal of IAPM, 1983.
Ear Infection Causes: Exposure to Cold
Ear infections also occur after exposure to cold wind or water, although infections can appear at any time. High altitudes and cold climates increase the risk of these infections. Decompression during air travel can also be a trigger.
Ear Infection Causes: Excess Mucus Production
Allergies to foods, pollen, dust, mold, animal dander, smoke, fumes, or other environmental toxins can also cause otitis media symptoms, because anything that irritates or inflames the mucous membranes will stimulate excess mucus secretion. An imbalance in the digestive system is a common cause for such excess. When digestive organs become irritated or inflamed, a mucus condition will develop, often followed by headaches, postnasal drip, sinus inflammation, digestive disorders, recurrent colds and ear infections.
Dairy products increase mucus production, and may be an underlying cause of ear infections. If excess mucus did not exist in the first place, the Eustachian would not become so congested, and germs would not have such a good place to thrive. Further, many children are lactose deficient. This means that they do not have the ability to make enough of the digestive enzyme “lactase” to digest lactose, a component of milk. This can cause a host of digestive symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, gas, and stomachaches.
Sugar, found in most packaged goods and soda in one form or another, is especially good at producing excessive mucus in the body. As a test, take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime and note how you have a full throat of phlegm in the morning. Salt is another major cause of too much mucus. There are other causes, but most frequently it is an unbalanced diet.
Ear Infection Causes: The Diet Connection to Excess Mucus
Most people think of excess mucus in terms of runny noses and sinusitis. These are certainly common complaints, but not the only place in the body where excess mucus may be a problem. It is important to know that mucus is a natural and normal secretion of the body. In the usual small amounts, it lubricates and protects the delicate mucous membranes found throughout the body. It is when mucus accumulates or is produced in excess amounts that it interferes with the normal action of the affected tissues or organs.
In addition to the upper respiratory or nasal mucus, excess mucus may compromise the ears, stomach, intestinal tract, fallopian tubes, ducts, or any other mucous membrane-lined part of the body. Bacterial infection, if present, is the result of internal congestion or inflammation caused by the overly mucous condition. This condition can be relieved only when the cause of the body’s excess mucus production is corrected.
Ear Infection Causes: The Problem with Antibiotics
In about a third of acute ear problems and in more than half the cases of chronic Eustachian tube blockage, no bacteria are present, making treatment with antibiotics inappropriate. When administered in such cases, antibiotics can actually cause the problem they are intended to solve. Over-prescribing antibiotics or giving the wrong kinds can promote the development of a stubborn, resistant strain of bacteria and lead to chronic infection of the lining of the Eustachian tube. Even if antibiotics are indicated, parents often fail to follow the instructions on the medication. Antibiotics should be taken for the full period indicated on the label.
What must be addressed is the underlying susceptibility: weakened resistance to infections, dietary or nutritional deficiencies, allergies and sensitivities, and a diet filled with mucus-forming foods (especially dairy).
Ear Infection Causes: Some Oils Increase Mucus Secretion
In the last 20 years it has become popular to include large quantities of polyunsaturated fats in our diets. There has also been an increase in mucus-laden conditions such as asthma, inner ear infections, postnasal drip, sinusitis, etc. The two trends may be linked by more than coincidence. One consequence of eating a diet high in certain polyunsaturated oils (found in corn oil, mayonnaise, and many packaged foods) may be the increased production of compounds that increase mucus secretion. Not all oils pose the same danger. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish and flax oil) may actually reduce the risk of an ear infection. Increase your intake of olive and flax oils and eat more fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and cod.
Ear Infection Causes: Too Many Carbohydrates
The most frequent dietary problem is an extremely unbalanced diet, with excessive consumption of carbohydrates. Any carbohydrateeven the best, unrefined whole wheat breadif consumed in excess, can create an increase in mucus production. This situation is worse if refined carbohydrates such as devitalized white bread, white rice, or sugar are eaten regularly, causing excess acid and mucus to build up in body tissues. Infants and children who eat mostly refined starches often exhibit this condition.
Ear Infection Causes: Food Allergies Cause Excess Mucus
Any food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance can cause excess mucus production. Since food allergies and sensitivities are one of the major causes of recurrent ear infections in children, it is wise to first eliminate the foods most frequently associated with excess mucus production: wheat, dairy products, sugar, and eggs. Also exclude all refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt, pepper, sodas, strong spices and junk foods. Coffee or tea (except herbal without caffeine) should be removed as well.
Eliminating mucous and acid-forming foods will stop nearly 50% of infections. Removing sugar and sugar-laden juices such as soda pop will eliminate 50-70% of the remaining ear infections. Be patient. It can take a full month to eliminate all the excess mucus from the body that is caused by eating the wrong foods, but it can also significantly reduce the symptoms.
Ear Infection Causes: Why Proper Bowel Function is Important
If the inflammation reaches the point where toxins seep through the irritated and sometimes thinned lining of the gut, the stage is set for the creation of disease anywhere in the body. If the organs of elimination are not working effectively, or are overburdened by this toxic/irritant excess, an excess mucus condition will develop. That is why it is so important to establish and maintain proper bowel function.
For hundreds of years, the large intestine has been thought to play a major role in a wide range of diseases. A Naturopathic Physician should immediately try to aid intestinal elimination and restore balance. Treatment should address changing the intestinal micro flora, increasing peristaltic activity, and overcoming stasis without resorting to toxic measures. This can be done with diet, exercise, herbal and homeopathic medications, enemas and other natural and non-invasive methods.
Healthy bowels can make a big difference in your state of health. All body cells take in nutrients to nourish themselves from the small intestine, then need to get rid of the waste material generated. For optimal health, each of approximately one hundred trillion cells needs to do this! The body must eliminate this waste efficiently or the toxic overload results in illness and disease.
Using bowel cleansers can be very helpful, but children should be treated and monitored by a health professional. Some of the most popular cleansers contain bentonite clay, psyllium husk, and herbs such as cascara and senna. It is also important to drink adequate pure water and avoid excess salt and sugar. For information about how to make a cleansing shake and other information about cleansing the bowels, see my book “The Bacteria Menace.”
Ear Infection Causes: The Acid / Alkaline Balance
Probably the most important thing we can do with our diet for health and vitality is to maintain a proper acid-alkaline balance. In healthy people, a proper balance is normally maintained through a buffering system. This balance depends on a healthy digestive system as well as a healthy liver. Poor assimilation and elimination, lack of digestive enzymes, severe infections or illness, second-hand smoke or drug use all interfere with this buffering system.
All cells in the human body are slightly acidic and must exist in a slight alkaline environment to remain healthy and produce energy. As each cell performs its task, it secretes wastes that are acidic. These wastes are the end products of cellular metabolism and must not be allowed to build up, so the body goes to great lengths to neutralize and detoxify these acids. A diet balanced in acid-alkaline foods is essential for the body to meet this goal. If the body cannot detoxify, it puts excessive demands on the immune system. This increases the risk of immune problems and results in the over production of mucus, a leading cause, as we have seen, of ear infections.
Once a food is digested, it is known as “ash.” Generally, meat, sugar, and grains yield an acid ash, whereas fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, yield an alkaline ash, and fats yield a neutral ash. Ideally, the body maintains a neutral or slightly alkaline state. When a body gets too acidic one of the things that happens is the increase of mucus. Other causes of an acidic system are allergies, intestinal parasites, high stress lifestyle, eating junk foods, a toxic environment, sedentary lifestyle, illness, or a combination of these.
As a rule, the body needs more alkaline food than acidic food. This is necessary for the pancreas to produce enzymes and for the liver to function best. Acid foods include meat and carbohydrate-rich foods, while alkaline foods are mostly fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. It is important not to consume excess meat protein without balancing it with enough alkaline foods. The ideal ratio is 75 percent alkaline foods to 25 percent acid foods at each meal. Otherwise, it can lead to over acidity especially to the lymphatic system, decrease its ability to carry toxins from the body.
Some of the most alkaline foods are molasses, beans, raisins, beet greens, spinach, brewer’s yeast, almonds, soybeans, celery, and most vegetables and sprouted seeds and sprouted grains. On the other hand, some of the most acidic foods are egg yolk, wheat germ, animal products, and most sugars. Others are coca-cola, catsup, cocoa, flour products, mustard, and pasta.
Dairy products are fairly acidic. These include all cheeses, ice cream, custards, and milk. Prunes and plums are fruits that are also acid forming. Just because fruits have an acidic taste does not mean that it breaks down in the body to an acidic state. Most drugs and coffee are also acidic in the body.
Natural Ear Infection Treatment
Ear Infection Treatment: Eat Foods For Health
Eat more vegetables and fruit, and minimize meat. Citrus juices such as grapefruit and lemon, if not too concentrated, can help to break up congestion and cure the ear infection. However, if bladder infections or acute stomach problems also exist, citrus can be very irritating. Fresh apple juice seems to be easier on the stomach and usually does not cause problems. Onions and odorless garlic capsules are very useful mucus solvents, as well as all berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc.) Pineapple, if not excessively sweet, is a good mucus solvent, as are whole oranges, grapefruits, lemons, cherries, and tomatoes.
Fresh squeezed vegetable juices not only help the body eliminate mucus, but nourish and rebuild tissues. Vegetable juices may be freshly squeezed at home or found in natural food stores. Some of the tastiest are combinations of several different vegetables, such as carrot, beet, and ginger. Try the ones that are low in added sugar. Avoid vegetable fats such as coconuts or avocados and increase consumption of raw vegetables and brown rice.
Ear Infection Treatment: Other Diet Recommendations
Many people with ear infections need to avoid dairy products and wheat for at least 2 months, if not permanently, as well as the other foods mentioned earlier. In some cases, goat’s yogurt may be introduced as well as free-range eggs later in the treatment program. Children should not be fasting without professional medical help, but may be able to go on a short all-fruit diet for a day or two.
After eliminating mucus-forming foods for at least a month it is time to expand the diet with the first introduced grains being brown rice and millet. If dairy products are to be given, start with goat’s yogurt because it seems to cause less mucus production then cow’s milk. Wheat in small amounts may then be added, but yeast-free if possible. Since so many children seem to have issues with wheat, it might be better to use other grains such as rye or spelt.
Ear Infection Treatment: Digestive Enzymes
Treating the child’s digestive tract with digestive enzymes and strengthening the immune system are appropriate places to rebuild and thus prevent recurrence of an ear infection. Poor pancreatic function will result in more mucus production so introduction of pancreatic enzymes may be of benefit.
Ear Infection Treatment: Breast Feed
Children who are breast-fed are less susceptible to ear infections. This is due in part to the immune building properties of colostrum found in the mother’s milk. It is important that the mother’s diet not be full of foods that aggravate the child’s condition, the most common ones being dairy, wheat, peanut butter, sugar, and not enough vegetables and salad greens. Cut back on wheat products, corn, and food additives and dyes, as these tend to be more problematic than other foods. Remove as many environmental pollutants from your home as you can, including dust, cleaning fluid and solvents, and tobacco smoke. Eat organic foods as often as possible.
Ear Infection Treatment: Adopt a Natural Living Lifestyle
Although most children are likely to get ear infections, that doesn’t need to be the case with your children. The natural living lifestyle is comprehensive in its approach to diet, supplements and natural medical care. In fact, everything you’ve read thus far is based on natural living principles. Stop those ear infections by adopting the natural living lifestyle! In summary then, eat organic foods, avoid meat and dairy, avoid processed foods and especially foods with added synthetic chemicals, take powerful supplements and visit a Naturopathic Doctor. To learn more about the natural living lifestyle, read The Beginner’s Guide to Natural Living.
Ear Infection Treatment: additional recommendations
Be careful blowing the nose due to imbalanced pressure in the Eustachian tube during an ear infection. Keep the ear canal dry. Put cotton in the ear canal when showering or bathing. Do not swim or go out in the rain during an infection.
Use hydrotherapy: soak neck bandages in cool water and apply to the inflamed ear. At the same time, put the feet in a hot footbath with a tablespoon of mustard or cayenne powder. Hydrotherapy can reduce the pain and swelling by drawing the blood away from the upper body. Wrap the body in a blanket so it will not become chilled.
Place a hot water bottle, wrapped in a towel, on the aching ear. Applications of compresses soaked in hot water may relieve pain and can stimulate circulation to the area to help fight infections. Alternating hot and cold packs may also help relieve pain. Some earaches respond better to hot treatments and others to cold treatments.
Drink lots of pure spring or filtered water; it helps to reduce mucus and eliminate toxins from the body. Do not use tap water that is not filtered.
In cold, damp weather, keep the feet warm and avoid drafts especially near the head. Protect the neck by wearing a scarf or other covering.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect the immune system. Follow label instructions for dosing children. Some vitamins, such as too much vitamin C, can cause diarrhea.
Gargling with salt water can help to clear the Eustachian tubes.
Holding the head erect may help drain excess fluid from the middle ear.
Essential fatty acids are important for treating ear infections. They help to control inflammation anywhere in the body especially swelling in the Eustachian tube, and to reduce allergies. Evening primrose oil is an excellent source. Flaxseed oil is another.
Vitamin C with bioflavonoids helps to support the immune system and fight ear infections. Add 1 teaspoon vitamin C crystals or powder to 6 ounces of water. Take 1⁄2 to 1 ounce of this mixture every 1-3 hours. Reduce the dosage if it causes a stomachache or loose stools.
Zinc can be very helpful when fighting acute ear infections. Zinc lozenges quicken the immune response and aid in reducing an ear infection.
Beta-carotene and vitamin E with mixed tocopherols promotes healing of the mucous membranes.
Wash your hands. This is the single best way to prevent the spread of illness. Clean surfaces regularly, especially the ones that children encounter.
When using eardrops, be sure to treat both ears even if the infection appears only in one ear. Try i drops, found at natural food stores.
Sleep with the head propped up to relieve pressure on the eardrum and promote drainage.
Avoid all fast and convenience foods since they tend to be low in needed nutrients.
Daily eucalyptus inhalation can loosen mucus. To steaming water, add three drops eucalyptus oil. Have the child lean over the steam with a towel covering the head, breathing in the inhalation.
Put hygroscopic anhydrous glycerin into the ear. This product helps reduce pressure in the middle ear and promotes fluid drainage. It is available at pharmacies.
According to Mark Eisen, MD, lemons on the feet will help if there is excessive congestion. Place a wafer thin slice of lemon on the bottoms of the feet. Secure carefully with a little gauze. Replace the child’s sock back on the foot. This will help reduce congestion quickly.
Avoid sugar in all forms except xylitol. Sugar and refined white flour rob the body of potassium and phosphorus, which are critical to ear function
 (Lovejoy HM, et al.: Effects of low humidity on the rat middle ear. Laryngoscope, 1994.)