Caring for Children with Ear and Throat Infections

None of us like to see our children sick, but unfortunately illnesses such as ear and throat infections are common in young children. Tomake things much worse, recurrent ear or throat infections often result in insertion of grommets, or removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids. We do not want our children to need surgery, so the question is,can we prevent the need for these procedures?

Of course, the best way to protect against surgeries related to ear and throat infections is to prevent the infections! We need to strengthen the immune system as a whole, and it all starts with gut health. One study on the use of probiotics to prevent ear and respiratory infections involved 72 babies who needed to be formula-fed before 2 months of age, 32 in the probiotic group and 40 in the placebo group. During the first 7 months of their lives, only 7 out of 32 babies receiving probiotics suffered from ear infections, while 24 out of 40 babies in the placebo group did. Only 9 out of 32 babies suffered from upper respiratory infections, compared to 22 out of 40 who did not take probiotics. The strains used here were Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG) and Bifidobacterium lactis (Bb-12), so look out for these when choosing a probiotic. Others that can help to prevent infection are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophilus, other Lactobacillus GG strains and other Bifidobacterium species.

Also related to gut health, food allergies and intolerances may contribute to recurrent infections. The most common foods implicated are dairy, wheat, peanuts, corn, soy, oranges and tomatoes. These are also mucus-forming foods in sensitive individuals, and increased mucus can impair drainage of the ears and sinuses. If you suspect that your child may have an allergy or intolerance, it is important that they are tested. Something else to consider if your child is frequently sick is heavy metal testing. Heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, may directly contribute to immune disturbances and interfere with the use of nutritionally essential minerals. Some of these, for example zinc, are needed to fight infections. For food and chemical sensitivities, I recommend the Bio-compatibility hair analysis; this is separate from the hair mineral test used for heavy metals.

While we often think of it in relation to age-related conditions, oxidative stress is another factor in illnesses such as ear infections, as it causes tissue damage and lowers immunity. In a study comparing children with ear infections or tonsillitis with healthy children, it was found that the sick kids had significantly lower levels of antioxidant vitamins and enzymes. Air pollution and cigarette smoke can also increase oxidative stress, putting kids at greater risk of infection. If one or both of these cannot be avoided, perhaps antioxidant supplementation may be ideal.

Of course, there are also herbal remedies that may be helpful when your child has an ear infection. The aim here is to both boost immunity and provide antimicrobial support, using herbs such as mullein, echinacea and calendula. However, the advice of a qualified naturopath is essential.

Three Things You Can Do At Home
Apart from professional support, there are some things you can do at home. These include:

1) Herbal Poultices
To increase blood flow to the ear, loosen mucus and soothe inflammation, a combination of warming herbs such as thyme, ginger, onion and/or garlic can be made into a poultice and placed over the ear and neck.

2) Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake
To improve your child’s antioxidant status, the best thing you can do is to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in their diet. Homemade vegetable purees are best for babies who have begun to eat solid food, and for older children there are a number of ways to get them eating healthier, from fruit salad and carrot sticks to sneaking vegetables into desserts!

3) Keep Your Child Hydrated
Keeping an eye on fluid intake is always important, especially in the case of infections. This not only helps to keep blood volume and flow at optimal levels, but swallowing can help open the Eustachian tube to drain the ear canal.

If your child has been suffering from recurrent infections, feel free to book an appointment.

4: Hechtman, L. (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Chatswood, NSW: Elsevier.
5: Reviewed by Steven Kim, MD: