Critical Ear Infections Must Not Go Undetected
Childhood Infections Sometimes Common
By definition, otitis media is a disease of the ears. if not treated, chronic ear infections have potential serious consequences such as temporary or permanent hearing loss. Fluid accumulates in the middle ear, pressure develops in the middle ear, and pain occurs in the middle ear.
Quite naturally then, doctors should directly treat the ears by whatever means possible. Or should they? One great weakness in modern medical practice is failure to view the patient as a whole.
When a problem arises in one area of the body, this is often the only area that receives attention. This is why antibiotics and surgery are used with such great frequency.
What happens if we ask the question, “What has occurred to render the child’s defenses unable to cope with a viral or bacterial insult?” In epidemics of strep throat, up to 60 percent of people are considered “carriers.” That is, they have positive strep cultures, but do not get sick. If one test healthy children in an elementary school classroom, he might discover that up to 40 percent of them culture positive for mycoplasma in their lungs.
Yet, these children are not sick. In studies of stress and infection, those under high stress are much more likely to become sick than those under low stress, even though both may culture positive for bacteria such as strep. What is unique about the individuals who remain well?
I’m convinced the differences lies lies in immune defenses or host defenses. in 1994, there were over one thousand written research papers reviewed entitled; ‘Beyond Antibiotics.’ It became clear that the immune system could be positively or negatively influenced by at least six factors:
- Neuromusculoskeletal factors
- Psychological factors
Imbalance in one or more areas might tip the scales in favor of the bacteria or virus. Maintaining balance in these areas often allows one to remain well despite exposure to bacteria or viruses. The principles set forth Beyond Antibiotics have now been used successfully by hundreds of thousands of patients of all ages around the world.
The growing consensus is that by improving host defenses one can reduce the rate of infection and reduce reliance on antibiotic drugs. Can the same principles be applied to childhood otitis media? Can the same principles be applied to prevention as well as treatment?
It has been determined that, through overwhelmingly positive feedback, the suffering of middle ear problems can be reduced through improved overall health and vitality.
Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear. All the events that occur in the middle ear – swelling, pain, infection, complications – are important and must be addressed. However, these events may only be the sequel to events that occur elsewhere in the body.
Killing bacteria may, at times, be necessary. But as you read this information, keep in mind that optimizing immune function is highly desirable regardless of age or condition. The cause of otitis media is not fully understood. What probably occurs is a multiplicity of events that interact to take advantage of lowered immune function, underdeveloped eustachian tube muscles, respiratory congestion, excessive mucus production, nutritional inadequacy, or any number of other factors.
Now, let me present a synthesis of the major contributing factors in the middle ear inflammation. In each case, prevention and treatment solutions are available that take advantage of our understanding of the causes presented here.
The four main causes of ‘otitis media’ (which contributes to hearing loss) are:
- Allergy and Environmental Sensitivity.
- Mechanical Obstruction.
- Nutrient Insufficiency.
Allergy and Environmental Sensitivity
Allergy is called the great masquerader because it can contribute to and mimic, many illnesses with which we don’t usually associate allergy. From recurrent colds to bronchitis, bed wetting to headaches, enlarged tonsils to diarrhea, allergy can play a significant role.
To children with recurrent middle ear infection, allergy is indeed the “great masquerader.”
Not all children with allergies develop middle ear problems, and not all children with middle ear problems have them because of allergies. But in children whose earaches are due to allergy, neglecting to treat the allergy (or the underlying factors that lead to the development of allergies) often results in recurrent infections.
Evidence demonstrating the role of allergy in middle ear problems has been steadily accumulating over the past four decades. A study of 540 children by W. Leonard Draper, M.D., showed that secretory otitis media was more than twice as frequent in allergic children than in non-allergic children.
Dr. Draper also noted, in a study of 100 allergic children, that approximately 50 percent had fluid in the ears. Poor eustachian tube function – believed to be one of the prime factors leading to the development of middle ear infection – has been found to occur in almost one-third of allergic children.
Under certain conditions, bacteria present in the upper respiratory tract find their way up the eustachian tube into the middle ear. Once in the middle ear chamber, they contribute to the damaging events with which we associate infection. When middle ear fluid is cultured for bacteria, the most common bacteria found are Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae. These are called pathogenic organisms, which refers to their ability to produce disease.
Cases of otitis media in which S. pneumoniac is involved tend to occur with severe pain and fever, but more commonly affect both ears.
Otitis media can when the eustachian tube is blocked, or obstructed, by physical or mechanical means. The most common factors associated with mechanical blockage of the eustachian tube are swollen tonsils or adenoids. It was this association that prompted the widespread use of tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy in the early days of treating ear infections.
The cause of swollen tonsils or adenoids is not fully understood, but many doctors believe they can be caused or aggravated by allergies. Thus, allergies can lead to the development of one form of mechanical obstruction.
There is another form of mechanical obstruction that further contributes to the development of middle ear problems (and quite possibly the tonsilar and adenoid swelling in some children) called biomechanical obstruction.
Biomechanical obstruction refers to blockage that is due to problems involving the structural components surrounding the ear and eustachian tube.
Over the past two decades, our understanding of nutrition has expanded rapidly. For instance, we know that a child’s intake of dietary fats can either enhance or impair immune function. Intake of the wrong types of fats not only predisposes a child to developing recurrent infections, but to inflammatory conditions as well.
Deficiency of certain trace elements and vitamins causes a child’s metabolic machinery to go awry, even if essential fats are taken in proper proportion. If all is well, regarding the intake of vitamins, minerals, and fats, there are still a host of dietary factors that can upset the balance.
These are important considerations in childhood ear infections. Understanding them can allow you to avoid some things that put your child at risk to ear infections, and to things that will optimize your child’s resistance to disease in general.
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