Ear Infections: Can Chiropractic Help?

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Ear Infections: Can Chiropractic Help?
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elizabeth Gorenc, courtesy of Army Medicine via Creative Commons.

Otitis media (OM), or ear infections, are one of the most common reasons for children’s doctor visits. Although ear infections are commonly treated with antibiotics, this has led to an increase in antibiotic-resistant infections in recent years. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released recommendations discouraging antibiotic use for most minor ear infections in children.

This has led researchers to begin focusing on other conservative methods of treating ear infections, such as spinal manipulative therapy (SMT). A new literature review evaluated the available evidence for the use of SMT to treat pediatric OM.

It has been claimed that SMT could alleviate disorders involving visceral organs, such as otitis media, in addition to the musculoskeletal disorders more commonly treated with chiropractic therapy. There are several hypothesis for how SMT could treat OM, primarily attributing the effects to changes in the spine, which in turn result in changes in nerve activity. Certain SMT techniques focus on the function of cranial structures to treat OM, directly affecting the Eustachian tube, thought to be involved in recurring ear infections. Cervical spinal manipulation also impacts the lymphatic and muscular systems to increase lymphatic drainage, another potential way to treat OM through SMT.

In the review, researchers found 49 studies involving the use of spinal manipulation to treat ear infections in children. All of the 15 case reports included in the study resulted in improved hearing or decreased OM symptoms. The case series included in the study also demonstrated a decrease in recurrent symptoms or number of recurrences. None of the studies reported adverse effects.

The majority of trials in the review supported the use of SMT for children’s ear infections, although the overall evidence is limited. There appears to be a potential for benefit, though more studies are needed to provide further evidence and a clearer picture of the possible effects of spinal manipulative therapy for the treatment of children’s ear infections.

While more research is needed on the efficacy of spinal adjustments for OM, doctors of chiropractic can help pediatric patients with ear infections through a number of natural treatment approaches. A doctor of chiropractic trained in nutrition may be able to advise you in using probiotics, Echinacea, xylitol, and herbs to naturally relieve pain and prevent future infections. A chiropractor who specializes in nutrition can also help you identify whether food allergies are the source of increased inflammation and recurring infections.

References

Berman, Stephen. “A Changing View of Ear Injections.” The New York Times. February 12, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-earinfections-know.html. Accessed February 6, 2012.
“Ear infection- acute.” The New York Times. http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/ear-infection-acute/home-remedies.html. Accessed February 6, 2012.
“Otitis media.” University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/otitis-media-000121.htm. Accessed February 6, 2012.

Pohlman KA, Holton-Brown MS. Otitis media and spinal manipulative therapy: a literature review. Journal of Chiropractic  Medicine 2012; 11(3): 160-9.

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