Ear Infections – Naturopathic Approach

  • Tara Andresen

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Ear infections can affect the external or internal ear canal. In this post we will look at otitis media which involves the internal ear canal. Otitis media is an infection of the upper respiratory tract and is one of the most common reasons for childhood visits to a health practitioner and for prescription of antibiotics to children. Chronic recurring otitis media can interfere with school attendance and result in hearing and learning difficulties.

For most children, acute ear infections will resolve within 14 days.  If otitis media become recurrent, it is important to address the underlying cause as well as alleviate symptoms. There are a number of contributing factors linked to otitis media.  Infectious agents can be either viral or bacterial but often swabs taken of the ear come back negative for bacteria. Other factors linked to otitis media include certain high allergy and mucous forming foods, environmental triggers and structural imbalances leading to impaired drainage of the Eustachian tubes.  Environmental triggers include exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution and environmental allergens.  These triggers increase upper respiratory tract congestion, providing a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria.  Congestion can result in middle ear pressure that intermittently blocks the Eustachian tubes that normally drain the ear of fluid coming from  the respiratory tract.

Even though recent literature states that acute otitis media resolves in 14 days without intervention, conventional treatment almost always involves antibiotics.  However, research shows that there is limited benefit of taking antibiotics for acute otitis media. Antibiotics may help reduce pain by about one day but studies show that the duration of the illness is not shortened.

Breastfeeding for at least 4 months has been shown to provide the greatest protective mechanisms against otitis media. Other factors include keeping the infant away from cigarette smoke and air pollution and also limiting consumption of mucous producing foods.

Naturopathic treatment involves dietary changes as well as supplementation with specific nutrients and herbs. The goal of treatment is to stimulate the immune system – both systemic immunity and mucosal immunity.  Oral herbs such as Echinacea and Uncaria Tometosa provide immune stimulation. Echinacea is also antiviral and antibacterial.  For pain relief and local treatment, herbal ear drops can be used and have been found to be as effective or more effective at treating pain as pharmaceutical analgesic ear drops.

In addition to herbal treatments, other nutrients may be prescribed by your naturopath to stimulate the immune system. For example, zinc and vitamin C are immune-boosting nutrients. Also, probiotics may be recommended because of the role of good gut flora and a strong immune system.

To find out more about how Naturopaths treat ear infections, book your appointment with Dr. Andresen at one of her convenient Toronto Naturopathic Clinics.