Ear Infections and Chiropractic Care

Otitis media (middle ear infection) is very common among infants and toddlers. In fact, 60-85% of children will be affected within the first year of life alone! A middle ear infection is the second-most common reason for a child to visit their pediatrician and the most common reason for antibiotic prescription, costing the Canadian medical system over 600 million dollars per year (not including work time lost due to parents staying home to care for their children). With statistics like these, middle ear infections are a growing concern to both parents and health care practitioners.

What is Otitis Media:

Otitis media (OM) is, most simply, inflammation of the middle ear. This type of inflammation often begins with infections (bacterial OR viral) that cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory illnesses, and then spreads to the middle ear. The inflammation may occur with or without infection and can be acute or chronic.

Acute OM: This type of OM is rapid in onset and short in duration. It is typically associated with accumulation of fluid in the middle ear and shows signs or symptoms of an infection, including fever.

Chronic OM: This type of OM is defined by a persistent inflammation of the middle ear and typically lasts for at least one month. This distinguishes it from Acute OM, which usually lasts for a couple of weeks. Following an acute infection, the fluid (known as effusion) can stay in the middle ear for up to three months before draining, leading to chronic OM. This type of OM can cause ongoing damage to the middle ear and eardrum. It is not uncommon for Chronic OM to begin without symptoms – painless and absence of fever. Ear pressure or popping can be persistent for month and, sometimes, a loss of hearing can result.

What symptoms should I look for?

The main symptoms to be aware of are:

  • Severe earache (due to the fluid buildup causing an increased pressure behind the eardrum)
  • Fever – 100.4° or higher, most often
  • Flu-like symptoms in children (vomiting and a lack of energy are most common)
  • Slight deafness
  • Infants may appear hot and irritable
  • Infants and young children may pull or tug at their ear
  • Loss of balance

Medical treatment:

OM is the most common reason for children to be prescribed medication, and it is usually the first line of treatment sought out by parents. Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment for OM is controversial. Systematic reviews of antibiotic treatment have concluded that there is only weak evidence that routine antibiotic treatment improves the course and outcomes of OM. Fewer than 20% of patients will slightly improve, and there will only be short-term benefits (from Canadian Family Physician, 2007).

Chiropractic treatment:

Your chiropractor will perform a through history and examination on your child. We always check for signs of infection and most chiropractors will check your child’s temperature and look into their ear with an otoscope, just like your pediatrician would do! The difference is that chiropractors do not prescribe antibiotics!

OM may occur without any infection – in fact, in most cases, the fluid that builds up in the middle ear is sterile and antibiotics are not necessary at all! It is not uncommon for restrictions to be present in the joints of the upper spine that can lead to inadequate draining of the ear and referral of pain from the muscles of the neck to the ear. Your chiropractor will examine all possible reasons for your child’s pain and treat them accordingly. A chiropractic evaluation is recommended by many medical pediatric text books in order to reduce the usage of antibiotics and to prevent recurrence of problem. Chiropractors use gentle upper neck manipulation, cranial adjusting and manual lymphatic drainage techniques to assist the fluid to drain from the ear and decrease the pressure and pain that your child feels. The majority of OM cases treated with spinal manipulation by chiropractors resolve in 10 days, most responding with fewer than 5 adjustments, and many requiring only 1 or 2 treatments. Acute cases show faster rates of improvement with chiropractic, and patients undergoing manipulation encounter fewer surgeries or recurrence of OM!

Next time your child, or one you know, has an ear infection, recommend chiropractic! It is both safe and effective to help your child without the use of harsh medications!

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