Ear infections are common in infants and children.
Many parents turn to natural medicine to help their children with ear infections and glue ear. In one study, it was found that nearly half of the children aged 1-7 years old had used Complementary or Alternative Medicine (CAM) for recurrent ear infections during the previous six month period (1).
The Western medicine approach says children are prone to ear infections due to their anatomy (a straighter Eustachian tube linking the nose and throat to the ears), combined with exposure to irritants like passive smoke or frequent upper respiratory infections, especially for children who go to day care. There may be other factors that make some children more likely to have ear infections than others.
Chinese medicine looks at ear infections by assessing the unique internal environment of the child’s body.
The challenge faced by all infants
All infants and young children have vulnerable digestive systems, according to Chinese medicine.
A baby needs to double its birth weight in the first six months of life. All a baby can “eat” for much of this time is milk. The digestive system must work hard to assimilate and transform the milk to send nutrients and energy (Qi or “chi”) to all parts of the growing baby’s body.
It’s easy for the digestive system to become overloaded.
According to Chinese medicine, when the digestive system isn’t transforming nutrients on time, there’s a build-up. A backlog. Like an engine that isn’t firing cleanly in its cylinders, gunk can build up instead of being used right away as fuel. This gunk is referred to as “Dampness” in Chinese medicine and if it becomes a chronic problem then it may appear as a related pattern called “Phlegm”.
Gunk can linger in certain body areas, according to Chinese medicine. Gunk loves to linger in the throat, nose, airways, tummy and ear.
This gunk creates stickiness, and this stickiness slows down energy flow.
Energy needs to flow to all parts of the body at all times to defend against outside influences. When the energy isn’t flowing to the ear at the time that it’s needed, then influences from the outside world can impact the ear.
The focus of Chinese medicine
So in Chinese medicine, we do have an idea of “germs” or pathogens causing disease. But we focus much more on the “host” than on the “germs”.
We focus our attention on the health of the child. We look for ways to make the child stronger, with the aim to increasing their defensive ability to resist disease in the future. This can sometimes mean simple information around food, activities, clothing and sleep.
Helping a child to overcome an acute ear infection revolves around:
- helping them to feel comfortable and relieving pain
- resolving stickiness with the aim to faster recovery and less discomfort
- stimulating the body to heal itself
In Western medicine, “inflammation” is often thought of as a bad thing. However, this view is beginning to change. Scholars are now considering that inflammation is part of the immune response, and therefore it must serve a good purpose.
In Chinese medicine, we say the redness and warmth are called “Heat”.
The body is sending a lot of energy to the area. It is trying to send its intelligence there to fight off the outside influence and to help that body part to recover, to feel good and to function properly.
But the energy is not getting through. There’s a blockage.
What is the blockage? The gunk!
So there’s “Heat” – redness, swelling, warmth and pain – because the body is smart. It knows energy is needed there, and it keeps sending more. It’s just that the gunk isn’t letting it through.
So we want to direct this energy towards healing, to show it the way. We want to lead the energy to where it’s needed.
At home, this may look like applying gentle heat therapy, warm ear drops or gentle comfortable massage of the surrounding areas. You may find that your child enjoys snuggling on your lap with your palm over their sore ear. Children will often tell you when they feel like a cuddle or to have a painful area held and this can be considered a simple and natural form of “energy healing”.
Antibiotics are a modern marvel and they save lives when used appropriately. When making a decision for your own health or for your child’s health, you need to get all the information and weigh up the risks and benefits. Sometimes a decision is imperfect because there may be side effects, but it can still be the best decision for the circumstances.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, keeping the child free from recurrent ear infections requires a longer-term view. It’s about ensuring that more gunk doesn’t get created. It’s also about looking for other ways that the energy may be not flowing smoothly, and helping it to be smooth again.
If you decide to use natural therapies for your family’s health, please tell your child’s doctor so that they know what you are doing and so that you have a team of people around your family, helping you to become healthy and stay healthy.
Watching and waiting
For simple ear infections, the recommended strategy in Western medicine is to “watch and wait” for a couple of days. Doctors are urged to reduce antibiotic use – firstly to avoid bugs becoming resistant in the whole population, but also because antibiotics can harm the delicate gut flora and may create longer-term problems.
If you can step in with appropriate natural care during the “watch and wait” period, it can be a way to be proactive and to give your child’s body a chance to learn how to heal.
If you would like to know more, you can:
- Call us on (02) 9938 2182
- Request a 15-minute Free Consultation to discuss your unique health situation and ask us questions, to find out whether our services may be a good fit for you
(1) Levi JR, Brody RM, McKee-Cole K, Pribitkin E, O’Reilly R. Complementary and alternative medicine for pediatric otitis media. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. 2013;77(6):926-931. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2013.03.009