Holistic Care of Middle Ear Problems
excerpt from The Holistic Baby Guide
Excerpt from The Holistic Baby Guide: Alternative Care for Common Health Problems (New Harbinger Publications, 2010)
Randall Neustaedter OMD
Holistic care provides comprehensive treatment for the recurrent or persistent ear problems that are so common in young children. The symptoms of ear infections and fluid collection in the middle ear often begin in a baby’s first year. They can persist into the toddler years and preschool ages. Once children reach 5 or 6 they tend to grow out of these problems, when Eustachian tube function improves. The problems of fluid in the ears with associated hearing loss, chronic swelling of mucus membranes, lowered resistance to infection, and impaired Eustachian tube function can all be addressed using a combined approach of holistic methods.
Don’t expect fluid in the middle ear to resolve quickly. It takes at least several 2 to 3 months to resolve the issues that contribute to the fluid build up and facilitate drainage of the middle ear.
Stop giving dairy products. The most common reason for production and stagnation of phlegm is milk products. Milk causes phlegm in many children and other children are allergic to dairy products. This includes cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Of course allergies may contribute to ear problems and chronic congestion. In older children environmental allergens may play a part, and in any age food sensitivities may be a subtle contributor to these problems. IgG allergy testing can be helpful to assess these in children over 18 months.
Fluid collection in the ears represents just one aspect of the phlegm dampness syndrome that plagues so many children. They often need Chinese herbal formulas as a part of their treatment program that addresses the important issue of mucus production. Your Chinese herbalist will be able to design a specific individualized program of herbs that will help your baby overcome these problems. This may involve herbs to bolster immune function, herbs to combat the heat and pathogenic factors that contribute to recurrent or chronic ear infections, and herbs to relieve phlegm.
One very important formula for this purpose is Minor Bupleurum (Xiao Chai Hu Tang). Blue Poppy Pediatric Formulas makes a modified version of this formula that specifically addresses ear problems (Bupleurum & Angelica Formula). The formula addresses the digestive dysfunction that leads to dampness and phlegm production. Here is the manufacturer’s description of this syndrome.
This formula is meant for the treatment of pediatric food stagnation transforming into heat and ascending through internal branches of the large intestine channel to steam and fume in the region of the ear. This pattern is commonly seen in pediatric otitis media characterized by pain, fever, restlessness, ear tugging, but no purulent discharge.
Other formulas such as Grow & Thrive by Chinese Modular Solutions promote healthy digestive function and the basis for a strong immune system. Specific formulas may be needed to address the mucus production if that is a prominent factor in the child’s case. There are many such formulas for your herbalist to prescribe. Other symptoms like coughing or accompanying allergies may indicate the need for a staged program of herbal treatment that heals the different layers of problems in a case with different facets and imbalances.
Mucus collection in the ears or sinuses signifies an inflammatory process, and an omega-3 supplement in the form of fish oil is indicated to relieve this state. Since infection is commonly a component of the middle ear problem, a probiotic formula supplement will help to normalize the flora and prevent infections. Other immune system activators will also help prevent these infections, including colostrum, whey protein, or a mushroom formula (reishi, shitaki, cordyceps). Chinese Modular Solutions makes a liquid extract of mushrooms (Resilience) that can be used for older babies. Vitamin D is essential for adequate immune system function and during the winter months when there is minimal sunlight all babies need a 1,000 IU vitamin D supplement.
Homeopathy provides a powerful tool for improving the constitutional health of babies with ear problems. It also has specific remedies for improving the function of the Eustachian tube. The most commonly indicated homeopathic remedies for middle ear effusion according to nineteenth century homeopathic ear specialists and confirmed by clinical experience since then are Kali-muriaticum and Mercurius-dulcis (Houghton 1875, Houghton 1885).
Kali-muriaticum (potassium chloride) is more often indicated when children have a white or greenish yellow nasal discharge, enlarged tonsils, and a stuffy sensation in the ear with hearing loss. Mercurius-dulcis (mercury chloride) by contrast has thickened, retracted eardrums with more scarring, and a granular appearance of the tonsils as well. Merc-dulc shares similar symptomatology with other forms of homeopathic mercury including diarrhea with greenish stools. A differentiating point in older children is that cold drinks ameliorate the conditions of Merc-dulc, but cold air and cold drinks aggravate the conditions of Kali-mur.
Kali-sulphuricum is another important remedy for consideration in middle ear effusion. Kali-sulph discharges tend to be thin, yellow, and sticky accompanied by hearing loss from the effusion. Noises in the ears are common in older children, with itching of the ears and evening pain.
Classical chiropractic theory recognizes that misalignment of the spine in babies can pull on the muscles of the neck, causing tension and dysfunction of the associated organs. Proper function of the Eustachian tube depends upon balanced head and neck musculature. Correcting an imbalance in these structures allows for healthy function of the Eustachian tube that drains fluid from the middle ear and distributes air to the middle ear cavity. Correcting any misalignment of the spine in the neck also improves immune system function because the first and second spinal nerves have a direct effect on immune system responses.
The Eustachian tube resides in a bony canal of the skull and passes through the temporal and sphenoid bones. A misalignment of these bones in babies can put pressure on the Eustachian tube. Cranial adjustment and restoration of proper alignment of these bones and the cartilage of the Eustachian tube will take pressure off the tube and help restore normal function.
Chiropractic care as part of a complete holistic program for managing middle ear problems of fluid collection and recurrent infections will work to establish both a normal function of the structures in the ear and the health of the immune system.