What is Otitis Media (OM)?
It is just a fancy word for an ear infection. These infections are usually caused by bacteria and present when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. In children it usually follows a sore throat, a cold or upper respiratory infection. The middle ear is the target for most of these infections but the Eustachian tubes (the passages that connect the middle ear to the upper throat area and supply fresh air to the middle ear, drain fluids and keep air pressure steady between the nose and the throat) and Adenoids are also commonly affected. Boys are usually more affected than girls and recurrent OM is defined as 3 episodes within 6 months or 4 episodes within 1 year.
You will come across 3 types of infection.
1) Acute Otitis Media (AOM)- The infected fluid build up causes earache and it is commonly associated with fevers
2) Otitis Media with Effusion (OME)- This occurs when the initial infection has passed but the fluid has remained trapped behind the eardrum(blocked Eustachian tube). This commonly has no symptoms although in kiddies it may lead to sleep disturbances, impaired hearing and popping sounds in the ears. It is also more common than AOM
3) Chronic OM with Effusion (COME)- This is fluid remaining in the middle ear or returning again and again even with no infection thus making it harder for kids to fight infections. It may lead to hearing loss effecting speech and language development.
Kids have smaller Eustachian tubes but more than that the tubes in children are more horizontally angled than in adults, making it harder for them to clear the fluids. The tubes often become blocked by mucus when kids initially get sick and the tubes swell, leading to blockages. Without fresh air the middle ear becomes great environment for infection.
Another factor contributing to OM in kids is that their immune systems are still developing and not as functional as in adults. In addition to this, bacteria can get caught up in the adenoids causing chronic infection that moves to the Eustachian tubes and middle ear.
Which Kids are at Risk?
Obviously kiddies with frequent upper respiratory tract infections top the pile in terms of risk. Colder months give rise to more cases as more colds and flu are seen. Kids at daycare are at higher risk as are bottle fed babies( especially if they are fed in a horizontal position with one ear facing the floor) in oppose to breastfed babies.
It is tough to home diagnose OM in kiddies that can’t talk yet but kids who pull/tug consistently on their ears especially after having just had an upper respiratory infection are prime candidates for a trip to a medical specialist. If the child is older they may complain of ear pain/discomfort, a ‘fullness’ in the ear, decreased hearing and show general irritability. Fever is not diagnostic of an ear infection.
First and foremost I do not see treat these kiddies until they have been seen by an ENT, Homeopath or GP and the diagnosis has been established. I am not an ear specialist and do not diagnose this kind of condition. My role is to correct function, not to be poking around in ears.
The Eustachian tubes are controlled by muscles that are in turn controlled by nerves that have connections to tracts in the upper cervical (neck) area. The logic states that misalignment in the upper neck area can lead to inappropriate nerve supply to these muscles and an inability of the tubes to clear fluids. Eustachian tubes can also have their function impaired by swelling of the neck’s lymphatic tissue. This not only affects the lymph drainage but in turn the immune system as well. By correcting the mechanics of the neck you are able to correct the functions of the Eustachian tubes and the lymphatic system. I personally use an activator tool on these upper vertebrae. I find it less invasive and more suitable for the job.
I always send my kiddies back to the ENT, Homeopath or GP after Chiro treatment for them to sign off on the success of the treatment.