Ear infection (acute otitis media), causing pain and deafness, is one of commonest childhood infections.
One parent, whose child had an earache, brought this up at her local Mums & Bubs support group and was flooded with advice.
One mother had started attending a children’s chiropractor during her pregnancy because he claimed that he could prepare her “pelvis for an optimal birth”. Many chiropractors specialise in children, often calling themselves ‘Paediatric Chiropractors’, so-called ‘experts’ in treating children with poor behaviour and concentration, sleeping problems, breastfeeding issues, delays in crawling or walking, colic and reflux symptoms. For ear infections. they often recommend at least 3 to 5 visits for chiropractic ‘adjustments’ before moving onto other options.
This mother believed that these treatments were safe and effective, as they involved gentle manipulations of her baby’s neck (spinal bone C2) to remove the ‘subluxations’ that were causing the problem. She also believed that chiropractic ‘adjustments’ boosted her child’s immune system to help its body function optimally.
A second mother recommended osteopathy as it “can be very effective in the treatment of middle ear infections.” Many osteopaths believe that “children and pregnant mums can benefit enormously from cranial osteopathy”. where practitioners use their finger tips to detect the “very subtle, rhythmical shape change that is present in all body tissues”, which they then compare to what they consider as “ideal”. In children, they claim “growth stresses” might lead to recurrent ear infection, behavioural problems, learning difficulties, headaches and asthma.
This mother understood that cranial osteopathy gave her practitioner an insight into the stresses her child had had from its birthing to the day-to-day knocks and bumps, causing illnesses which could be treated by cranial manipulation.
Involving “massaging the outside of the ear and face/jaw/neck area with diluted essential oils“ to reduce “inflammation and facilitate the drainage of excess fluid”, naturopathy was suggested. Recommended ear drops included basil, eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, oregano, chamomile, tea tree, vinegar, olive oil, violet leaf, calendula flower, fermented cod liver oil and thyme. If the inflammation was caused by food sensitivities, probiotics were recommended to help “moderate and even reverse those sensitivities over time” and to support the immune system with beneficial bacteria.
One mother thought that ear infection might be caused by allergies. ‘Kinesiology’ was suggested. This involves testing for “allergies using muscle testing as opposed to needles“. Her practitioner made the diagnosis by asking her child to hold their arm straight out in front of their body. He then applied pressure to that arm to see if the child could hold it up. He claimed that the arm’s staying up or down identified the food allergy or sensitivity which was contributing to either inflammation or a weak immune system which resulted in the ear infection.
Acupuncture was also suggested, to activate the child’s own healing abilities, as was a homeopathic nasal spray, which claimed to encourage draining and reduce mucus production.
By three years of age, the majority of children would have experienced at least one bout of ear infection, which, in over 80% of children, clears up without any treatment. For uncomplicated ear infection and ear pain, GPs might therefore suggest that the parent patiently observe the child and report any deterioration. Neither herbal ear drops nor antibiotics make much difference. However, for pain relief, anaesthetic drops work better than placebo drops.
For recurrent ear infections, grommets (ventilation tubes) have a significant role in maintaining a ‘disease-free’ state in the first six months after insertion. Other treatments involve antibiotics, which can provide a statistically significant reduction of pain with the additional benefits of reducing membrane perforations and infection in the other ear. However, these benefits should be weighed against possible harms from antibiotics affecting 7% of children, such as vomiting, diarrhoea or rash.
In reality, many childhood conditions are self-limiting in that they resolve unassisted. Because new families are particularly vulnerable, it is not surprising that so many ‘alternative practitioners’, some located in pharmacies, offer a wide range of unproven or disproven placebo interventions, growing their businesses by targeting this lucrative market.