Few things can be more frustrating for a parent – particularly a first-time parent – than an infant or toddler with an ear infection.
A child who is too young to explain that their ear hurts, but continually fusses and cries because of the pain, can test the fortitude of even the most patient parent. It does not help to know that children are far more likely than adults to get ear infections. In fact, five out of six children will get at least one ear infection by their third birthday.1
If an ear infection is not caught right away, particularly if it is in the very sensitive middle ear, it can lead to hearing problems and, in severe cases, partial or complete deafness.
If you have any young pediatric patients in your practice, you’ve no doubt dealt with this situation, particularly for children who are getting over a cold or an upper-respiratory bronchial infection. What are the tell-tale signs of a pediatric ear infection, particularly for children who are pre-verbal?
Why are children particularly prone to ear infections? Is chiropractic a viable option to standard treatment for pediatric patients? The more you know about this common condition for your youngest patients, the easier it will be to ease the minds of worried parents.
Signs of an ear infection in infants and very young children
Tugging or pulling at the affected ear is the most obvious sign of an ear infection in children who are too young to tell you or their parents what is wrong.1 Clumsiness or difficulty with balance in children who are normally confident walkers can also be an indication of an ear infection, particularly in the middle ear.
Difficulty responding to quiet sounds, fussiness and crying, or problems sleeping can also be indicators for infants in particular.1
Why are children so prone to ear infections?
Young children’s Eustachian tubes are smaller than those of adults. Their tubes also do not bend at as much of an angle as do those of adults.1 As a result, it is more difficult for fluid to drain out from the Eustachian tubes, so pressure may build up in the middle ear.1
Furthermore, young children’s immune systems have not fully developed, making them more susceptible to colds and upper-respiratory bronchial infections, along with the ear infections that can result.1
Chiropractic for ear infections: a viable option?
A 2013 article published in International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology pooled results from 36 smaller studies looking at various complementary and alternative treatments for middle ear infections in pediatric patients to find any commonalities among the results.2
Such treatments included probiotics, natural health products such as xylitol, manual chiropractic adjustments, and traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine such as acupuncture and herbs.
The smaller studies that specifically included chiropractic adjustments did appear to show promising results, with some indicating as much as 75 percent to 95 percent improvement for those children who underwent adjustments compared to those who did not.2 Furthermore, there also appeared to be low rates of re-occurrence, with one study claiming a rate as low as 11 percent. Although these studies were promising, they were small, so the researchers felt that larger studies might yield better evidence.2
A young child with an ear infection is not only miserable, but can easily test the resolve of worried parents, particularly if it is their first child. This is compounded if the child is too young to explain what is wrong. This is why it is vital for DCs to know what signs to look for in their pediatric patients, as well a show best to treat the problem.
- Ear infections in children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Accessed June 15, 2018.
- Levi JR, Brody RM, McKee-Cole K, et al. (2013). Complementary and alternative medicine for pediatric otitis media. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 77(6), 926-931.