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Ear Infections

Diagnosing Ear Infections

Ear infections, also known as acute otitis media, are the most common diagnosis made by pediatricians, second only to the common cold.(1) In fact, 75% of children have an ear infection by the time they reach 3 years old.

Ear infections occur most frequently in children between the ages of 6 months to 3 years old due to a lack of immunity against common viruses and bacteria that cause ear infections as well as an anatomically low Eustachian tube angle.

Studies have shown that antibiotics provide little relief in non-severe cases of ear infections with mild ear pain and a fever of less than 39°C.(2) In fact, the current standard of care for pediatricians is that for mild cases in children older than 6 months, an observation period of 48 to 72 hours can be recommended to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics that can cause long-term antibiotic resistance.(3)

Ear infections commonly accompany other upper respiratory infections and cause pain or discomfort in the affected ear. Unfortunately, many very young children can’t communicate their specific complaints. They may experience ear pain or fullness, decreased hearing, fever, discharge from the ear, pulling/tugging of the ear, and many infants may be asymptomatic or simply just irritable.

Since the history is often unreliable due to a young child’s inability to communicate, the most reliable source of diagnosis is a physical exam where your physician will use an otoscope to view the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to look for signs of infection such as bulging, fluid, or discharge.(4)

Conventional Treatment

The latest recommendations in conventional medicine state that infants younger than 6 months should receive antibiotics for acute ear infections. Children who are older than 6 months are generally recommended to receive antibiotics if the diagnosis is certain and the illness is severe. However, if the diagnosis isn’t certain and it is non-severe, it is recommended to utilize an observation period. The observation period is designed to decrease over-prescribing antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic resistance.

The observation option is a 48- to 72-hour period where the child is treated symptomatically with pain relieving medications rather than antibiotics. It is recommended that for an observation option to be considered, the parent or caregiver must be able to communicate with the clinician and have access to follow-up care in case the symptoms worsen. Studies conducted in the emergency department setting have shown that the observation option is both feasible and well accepted.(5 – 7)

In conventional medicine, children who have frequent recurrent ear infections are often treated surgically with ear tubes (myringotomy). This procedure makes a tiny incision in the eardrum to relieve pressure caused by excessive build-up of fluid and to help drain pus. Unfortunately, ear tubes don’t address the root cause of the problem, which is the child’s susceptibility to chronic recurrent ear infections.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy is an incredibly safe and effective treatment that used by the doctors at Arizona Natural Health Center for both acute and chronic recurrent ear infections. For most cases of acute ear infections, homeopathy alone can quickly stop the pain and heal the infection, and antibiotics are not recommended as the first line of therapy. For children with recurrent ear infections, chronic homeopathic treatment helps boost their immune system to make them healthier overall, so they stop getting ear infections.(8 – 11, 14)

Homeopathic Research for Acute and Chronic Recurrent Ear Infections

Homeopathy has been shown in scientific research to be safe and effective for ear infections. One study from 2001 showed that homeopathy resolved ear infections 2.4 times faster than placebo controls and there were no complications (side effects) observed in the study group.(8) In that same study, homeopathy was found to be 14% less expensive than treatment of ear infections with conventional antibiotics. Click here to download the full-text study.

In another research study, homeopathic treatment decreased ear pain one day sooner than conventional treatment.(9) Ninety-five percent of those treated with homeopathy never needed treatment with antibiotics. Additionally, in the homeopathy group, 70.7% of the children were free from recurrent ear infections in the following year. The remaining 29.3% of the homeopathically treated group only had a maximum of 3 recurrent ear infections. On the other hand, in the conventionally treated group, only 56.5% of the children were free from recurrence and 43.5% had a maximum of 6 recurrent ear infections in the following year. Click here to download the full-text study.

A study published in January 2012 shows the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating acute ear infections (otitis media).(14) This study is exciting because it was a randomized controlled trial that pitted homeopathy against conventional medicine in a head-to-head fashion. 80 children were split randomly into two groups. They were evaluated by an ENT specialist (otolaryngologist). 40 children were treated homeopathically and the remaining 40 were treated with conventional medicine.(14)

In the conventional group, researchers attempted to use the recommended “observation period” where the symptoms were treated symptomatically with pain relievers, anti-inflammatory and fever reducing medications for 3 days. Unfortunately, that was not very successful. Only one child was cured and the other 39 all required antibiotics after 3 days. All 39 cases treated with antibiotics were cured.

By comparison, in the homeopathy group, 38 patients (95%) were cured and 2 (5%) had their data lost because they failed to follow up. No antibiotics were required at all in the homeopathy group.

Symptoms improved more quickly in the homeopathy group than the conventional medicine group, and 4 cases were completely cured by the 3rd day.

These results are promising because they show that homeopathic treatment of acute ear infections is as effective as conventional treatment, without the need for antibiotics. Additionally, we know from the prior research that homeopathically treated children had less recurrent ear infections overall(11), which seems to indicate that homeopathic treatment strengthens children’s immune systems. Homeopathic treatment may be able to prevent the need for ear tubes.

Case Study: Ear Infections

Daniel was a cute and cuddly 22-month-old boy with big blue eyes and curly sandy blond hair. His mom brought him to Dr. Oskin to treat his chronic ear infections. You may have a child like him. His mom was beside herself because he was constantly sick. When they first came to see Dr. Oskin, Daniel had already been on 15 rounds of antibiotics and had myringotomy surgery (ear tubes) for treatment of his recurrent ear infections. Despite this he was still getting frequent ear infections with thick, foul smelling discharge.

Daniel was the kind of child who seemed like he was always getting sick, catching every cold that came around. Every time he would get the slightest sniffle, it would go straight to his ears and he would get smelly, sticky pus drain out of his ears for days. It would never resolve without antibiotics. Treating each individual ear infection with antibiotics was like mopping up the floor with the leaky pipe still pouring out water. The antibiotics didn’t make him a healthier child or prevent future ear infections. In addition to his tendency to get sick frequently, in his chronic case Daniel was delayed developmentally with walking, dentition, and language/speech.

After starting homeopathic treatment, he stayed healthier for longer periods of time, only coming down with the occasional cold that every child gets. Even better, he stopped getting those nasty ear infections every month. Within a month of homeopathic treatment Daniel started walking all over the place and exploded in his speaking skills with a leap in his word count. Within six months, Daniel went from being language delayed to early admittance into preschool. After a year and a half of chronic homeopathic treatment, Daniel has had only one ear infection (treated with antibiotics when the family was on vacation and they went to a local urgent care practice). He continues to get healthier and healthier.

Daniel’s case illustrates how homeopathy can help kids become healthier overall, so that they are no longer as susceptible to chronic acute illnesses like recurrent ear infections. Had Daniel been treated earlier, homeopathy may well have prevented the need for ear tube surgery. Because homeopathy is a holistic therapy that treats the whole person, unrelated developmental problems (walking and speech) improved as well.

References:

3. Neff MJ. AAP, AAFP release guideline on diagnosis and management of acute otitis media. Am Fam Physician. Jun 1 2004;69(11):2713-5.

4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Diagnosis and management of acute otitis media. Pediatrics. May 2004;113(5):1451-65.

5. Chao JH, Kunkov S, Reyes LB, Lichten S, Crain EF. Comparison of two approaches to observation therapy for acute otitis media in the emergency department. Pediatrics. May 2008;121(5):e1352-6.

6. Spiro DM, Tay KY, Arnold DH, Dziura JD, Baker MD, Shapiro ED. Wait-and-see prescription for the treatment of acute otitis media: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. Sep 13 2006;296(10):1235-41.

8. Jacobs, Jennifer MD, MPH, David A. Springer MD, MPH, Dean Crothers, MD. “Homeopathic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a preliminary randomized placebo-controlled trial.” The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Feb 2001, 20(2): 177-183.

9. Riley, David S., Michael Fischer, Betsy Singh, Max Haidvogl, Marianne Heger. “Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine: An Outcomes Study Comparing Effectiveness in a Primary Care Setting.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Apr 2001, 7(2): 149-159. Click here to read the study abstract.

10. Frei H, Thurneysen A. Homeopathy in Acute Otitis Media in Children: Treatment Effect or Spontaneous Resolution? British Homeopathic Journal, 2001, Oct, 90, 4, 180-182. Download full-text study here.

11. Friese KH, Kruse S, Ludtke R, Moeller H. The Homoeopathic Treatment of Otitis Media in Children. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 35, 7, 1997, 96-301. Download full-text study here.

12. National Institute of Deafness & other Communication Disorders. Ear infections in children; what causes ear infection: para – 01st

13. Noverr MC, Noggle RM, Toews GB, Huffnagle GB. Role of antibiotics and fungal microbiota in driving pulmonary allergic responses. Infect Immun 2004; 72: 4996-5003.

14. Sinha, MN, et al. Randomized controlled pilot study to compare Homeopathy and Conventional therapy in Acute Otitis Media. Homeopathy, 2012 Jan;101(1):5-12. Click here to link to the study abstract on PubMed.