Ear Infection: Common or Normal?

As we start to head into winter, we have to be extremely thankful for actually having a fall this year. The trees have been absolutely beautiful. We’ve had fairly mild temperatures + thankfully, some sunshine! But as we head into colder weather (and the holiday season that includes much more sugar), we know our immune systems have bigger challenges ahead. For little ones, that means the possibility of an ear infection.

According to the National Institute on Hearing and Communication Disorders, up to 75% of children will have an ear infection by the age of three.1 Of those children, more than 50% will have at least 3 ear infections during that time. Because it’s so common (NOT normal – there’s your answer ;)), February has even been labeled “Children’s E. N. T. (Ear, Nose, & Throat) Health Month”.2


A virus (and occasionally bacteria) leads to a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum and inflammation of the middle ear. The Eustachian tube is like the “drainpipe” for this region. Parents are often led to believe that due to the size and orientation of the Eustachian tube (short and more horizontal than that of an adult), this poor design leads to improper drainage. While this statement is true regarding anatomy, it does not complete the story. baby fussy from ear infections

As stated above, viruses are usually the main offender. The American Academy of Pediatrics has adopted the “wait and watch” approach for treatment to reduce the routine use of antibiotics for this reason. As we are seeing now, the overuse of antibiotics can have detrimental effects – creating “superbugs” that no longer respond, but more importantly in a child with a developing immune system, the antibiotics will wipe out the good bacteria in their gut. They then become more susceptible to a future ear infection and can also decrease the amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut. These neurotransmitters control mood and how we think.


In reality, gravity is not as important as movement. Therefore, the short and horizontal anatomy is not the main cause. Think about when you fly. As the cabin pressure changes, you need to “pop your ears” to accommodate. Most people control this by stretching their mouth open or swallowing. This movement of muscles + bones at the top of the neck helps to pump the fluid out. When mucus/congestion builds up within the sinuses, this opening and closing of the Eustachian tube helps to pump/massage the fluid along into the lymphatic system. This process is similar to peristalsis and the movement of food through the GI tract.


Let’s look closer through a different lens. What happens when the bones that these muscles attach to misalign and lose their normal motion? Often times, it results in irritation of the nearby tissues – muscle spasm, irritated nerves and inflammation. The nerves at the top of the neck control the movement of the muscle that attaches to the Eustachian tube. If they become irritated, that muscle remains contracted, causing the Eustachian tube to narrow + very little (if any) pumping to occur. The lack of movement within the nearby structures keeps the fluid stagnant, becoming a breeding ground for future infections.


So, what if we change our perspective? Instead of focusing on the pathology, let’s turn our attention to improving our ability to adapt. As previously mentioned, the nerves from the top of your neck control the muscle that surrounds the Eustachian tube. So, any stress at the upper neck will cause contraction of this muscle. This will then constrict the opening of the Eustachian tube, making it harder for fluid to drain. As a pediatric chiropractor, my goal is to restore the neural and structural integrity of your spine.  This can reduce or eliminate any secondary conditions (symptoms) that result from this disruption – i.e. ear infection.

Chiropractic for kids?!? They’re so little!!Great point. The amount of correction needed obviously depends on the size of the patient. For our littlest ones, it’s often no more pressure than you would use to test if a tomato is ripe. 

How does a misalignment occur in my child’s spine, without years and years of abuse?  It usually occurs in utero due to constraints or malposition (i.e. breech), or during birth. No matter how natural the birth process was, it’s still a LOT of stress on a developing spine. The amount of pressure, pulling and twisting forces on the baby’s spine during birth can reach 60-90 lbs. of pressure.

The “watch and wait” approach can be extremely hard to endure when your child is in pain from an ear infection. So what can be done? CLICK HERE to receive our free 4-page article that explains further + provides helpful tips that you can do at home. Also, check out our video HERE for additional insight. As always, reach out to us at hello@thrivenaperville.com so we can help get you + your child on the path to better health!

  • http://www.parents.com/health/ear-infection/ear-infections/
  • http://www.health.pa.gov/My%20Health/Infant%20and%20Childrens%20Health/Kids%20 Health/Pages/February-is-Kids-E.N.T.-(Ears,-Nose,-Throat)-Health-Month.aspx#.VsWgCcevFng
  • http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256857.php

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