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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Recurrent Ear Infections (Holistic)
Control mouth bacteria that cause ear infections by chewing gum or eating candy sweetened with xylitol, a natural sugar found in fruit
Stop smoking and avoid all sources of passive cigarette smoke exposure to reduce ear infection recurrences
Reduce ear infection risk in babies by weaning them off pacifiers
Work with a knowledgeable health professional to find out if food allergies are causing infections
Many children suffer recurrent infections of the middle ear, a condition also known as otitis media (OM).
Ear infections can cause irritability, difficulty sleeping, runny nose, fever, fluid draining from the ear, loss of balance, mild to severe ear pain, and hearing difficulty. Untreated infections can cause permanent hearing impairment and can also spread to other parts of the head, including the brain. Frequent or persistent ear infections in children can reduce their hearing when normal hearing is critical for speech and language development.
When parents smoke, their children are more likely to have recurrent ear infections.1 It is important that children are not exposed to passive smoke.
Humidifiers are sometimes used to help children with recurrent ear infections, and animal research has supported this approach.2 Nonetheless, human research studying the effect of humidity on recurrent ear infections has yet to conclusively show that use of humidifiers is of significant benefit.
Use of pacifiers in infants increases the risk of ear infections.3, 4, 5
Although sugar intake has not been studied in relation to recurrent ear infections, eating sugar is known to impair immune function. Therefore, some doctors recommend that children with recurrent ear infections reduce or eliminate sugar from their diets.
The incidence of allergy among children with recurrent ear infections is much higher than among the general public. In one study, more than half of all children with recurrent ear infections were found to be allergic to foods. Removing those foods led to significant improvement in 86% of the allergic children tested. Other reports show similar results. In one preliminary study, children who were allergic to cow's milk were almost twice as likely to have recurrent ear infections as were children without the allergy. People with recurrent ear infections should discuss allergy diagnosis and elimination with a doctor.
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Xylitol, a natural sugar found in some fruits, interferes with the growth of some bacteria that may cause ear infections. In double-blind research, children who regularly chewed gum sweetened with xylitol had a reduced risk of ear infections. However, when they only chewed the gum while experiencing respiratory infections, no effect on preventing ear infections was found.
Echinacea has been reported to support healthy short-term immune response. As a result, it has been suggested that some children with recurrent ear infections may benefit from 1–2 ml (depending on age) of echinacea tincture taken three times per day or more. Doctors who use echinacea suggest that supplementation be started as soon as symptoms start to appear and continued until a few days after they are gone. Nonetheless, research has not been done to determine whether echinacea supplementation either reduces symptoms or prevents recurrence of ear infections.
Ear drops with mullein, St. John's wort, and garlic in an oil or glycerin base are traditional remedies used to alleviate symptoms, particularly pain, during acute ear infections. No clinical trials have investigated the effects of these herbs in people with ear infections. Moreover, oil preparations may obscure a physician's view of the ear drum and should only be used with a healthcare professional's directions.
An unpublished clinical trial of children with colds found that linden tea, aspirin, and bed rest were more effective than antibiotics at speeding recovery and reducing complications such as ear infection. (Aspirin is no longer given to children due to the threat of Reye's syndrome.) However, no research has yet confirmed the use of linden for preventing ear infections.
Caution: It is likely that there are many drug interactions with St. John's wort that have not yet been identified. St. John's wort stimulates a drug-metabolizing enzyme (cytochrome P450 3A4) that metabolizes at least 50% of the drugs on the market. Therefore, it could potentially cause a number of drug interactions that have not yet been reported. People taking any medication should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before taking St. John's wort.
Vitamin C supplementation has been reported to stimulate immune function. As a result, some doctors recommend between 500 mg and 1,000 mg of vitamin C per day for people with ear infections. Nonetheless, vitamin C supplementation has not been studied by itself in people with ear infections.
Zinc supplements have also been reported to increase immune function. As a result, some doctors recommend zinc supplements for people with recurrent ear infections, suggesting 25 mg per day for adults and lower amounts for children. For example, a 30-pound child might be given 5 mg of zinc per day while suffering from OM. Nonetheless, zinc supplementation has not been studied in people with ear infections.
1. Ethel RA, Pattishall EN, Haley NJ, et al. Passive smoking and middle ear effusion among children in day care. Pediatr 1992;90:228-32.
2. Ross A, Collins M, Sanders C. Upper respiratory tract infection in children, domestic temperatures, and humidity. J Epidemiol Community Health 1990;44:142-6.
3. Jackson JM, Mourino AP. Pacifier use and otitis media in infants twelve months of age or younger. Pediatr Dent 1999;21:256-61.
4. Niemela M, Uhari M, Hannuksela A. Pacifiers and dental structure as risk factors for otitis media. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol 1994;29:121-7.
5. Niemela M, Uhari M, Mottonen M. A pacifier increases the risk of recurrent acute otitis media in children in daycare centers. Pediatrics 1995;96:884-8.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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