Most kids will have at least one ear infection during childhood. They occur when the Eustachian tube inside the ear becomes blocked or inflamed. An excessive amount of fluid then builds up, which becomes a breeding ground for viruses, bacteria, and infections. For decades, doctors have been prescribing antibiotics to treat pediatric ear infections.
Because ear infections can be painful, parents are usually eager to get relief for their children right away. But overuse of antibiotics has led to antibiotic-resistant infections, and now minor ear infections are not necessarily being treated with antibiotics. So what are parents to do? Research is being conducted on the effectiveness of complementary and alternative treatment methods. In one such study, researchers analyzed previous research to review the effectiveness of both preventative methods and alternative treatment options.
In the study, researchers looked at how breastfeeding, nutrition, and vaccination can help children avoid ear infections. They also analyzed former research to compare the benefits of using treatments such as chiropractic spinal manipulation, homeopathy, and traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine.
The findings that emerged from this literature review showed promise for the efficacy of treating ear infections without antibiotics. However, more research is needed about the specific methods. The researchers indicated that xylitol, a sugar alcohol found in strawberries and birch, is likely effective, but patient compliance has been inconsistent in previous research studies.
For prevention, the authors of the study concluded that doctors should emphasize to parents the importance of eliminating risk factors for ear infection, such as second-hand smoke and bottle-feeding. Parents should also be encouraged to maintain a nutritious diet and stay current on vaccinations for their children.
While former research has indicated that chiropractic spinal adjustments may help treat ear infections in children, this new study found herbal ear drops and vitamin supplements could also be effective. Researchers also found promise in traditional Chinese and Japanese therapies. In all of these alternative treatment methods, the authors of the study concluded that more extensive research is needed. They recommended that parents consult a health-care professional, such as a chiropractor or pediatrician, before making any treatment decisions.
Levi J, Brody R, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine for pediatric otitis media. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology 2013; online 4 April. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2013.03.009.