One of the most common childhood ailments is an ear infection. Often these can come on pretty quickly and a child can go from happy and cheerful to screaming and feverish in a very short space of time. Symptoms may include a fever, tugging or pulling at the ear(s) in pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy – not a lot of fun for a child. Unfortunately children are more prone to ear infections than adults due to the shape of the bony passage which drains the middle ear called the Eustachian Tube – in adults this angles down, but in newborns and young children this is horizontal, meaning any fluid buildup in the middle ear does not have any gravitational assistance to drain. As we grow our skull shape changes, resulting in the change of angle of this tube. When there is a buildup of fluid bacteria and viruses can multiply, resulting in a full blown infection. When this fluid contains pus and begins to create pressure on the eardrum it is defined as otitis media. If this continues to buildup it can cause rupture of the eardrum.
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Standard medical treatment for ear infections may involve antibiotics to kill the infection, however there is concern that antibiotics may be over used and result in antibiotic resistant bacteria, therefore many guidelines indicate that if the infection is minor and only in one ear the protocol is to keep the child comfortable, which may involve assistance for a fever, and to let the body’s immune system resolve the infection. If a child experiences several ear infections in the space of 2 years they may be referred to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist to possibly have grommets inserted in the eardrum to allow the pressure buildup to release to the external ear.
Osteopathically I like to try to avoid antibiotic use and grommets – osteopathic treatment may seek to ensure the exchange of fluid in the middle ear, moving the fluid containing the infective particles down the Eustachian tube to prevent buildup of reproducing infective agents, assisting the body’s own immune function to resolve the infection. Gentle osteopathic treatment, usually in the form of cranial osteopathy, may be useful to try to assist in this. Research on this condition indicates benefit from osteopathic treatment (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12963590) and I have seen many children with ear infections respond well to this. I would strongly advise checking with your doctor to confirm a suspected ear infection – they will usually check temperature and have a look at a child’s eardrums using a tool known as an otoscope. They may or may not prescribe antibiotics – in either case osteopathic treatment may be beneficial.