Q&A: persistent ear infections

Anna writes:

"I am hoping that you might be able to help me and my little boy.  My11-month old son has had over 5 ear infections in about 3 months.  The doctors keep prescribing different antibiotics, but he is still getting them.  The pediatrician wanted me to wait another month or so to see an ENT but I went ahead and made the appointment anyway (and got one for next month).   Have you ever dealt with this or any or your readers?  People keep telling me that ear infections are normal but this seems a bit extreme.  I am so frustrated and don't know what to do to help my baby!"

What a frustrating problem for you. Good for you for being proactive.

If I were in your situation, I'd try a 3-4-week test of taking your son off all dairy and wheat products to see if that helps stop the ear infections. Food sensitivities won't cause ear infections outright, but they could be causing extra mucus buildup that aggravates the ears or makes it difficult or impossible for the infections to completely clear. If that's the case, then all the antibiotics in the world won't really stop the problem (and will only cause problems later on from overuse--you want them to work when you really need them). You need to top the mucus buildup instead.

If you're still nursing, the bad news is that you'll have to go off dairy and wheat for that time, too, but it will be worth it for a short time if it helps you stop the ear infections. And if you can't eat wheat products it's an excuse to eat a lot more French fries.

If your son is on cow's milk or cow's milk products already, I wouldn't switch to soy equivalents (because soy is another common allergen), but would go to fortified rice milk instead while you're doing the elimination test.

I would also seriously consider taking your son to a pediatric chiropractor, since there have been several studies (and a ton of anecdotal evidence) that a few adjustments can eliminate or reduce ear infections by relaxing the spine and putting things in better alignment so the ear tubes can drain properly. (Chiropractic adjustments on babies and kids done by pediatric chiropractors are extremely gentle--more like massage than like the adjustments adults may be familiar with. My cousin adjusts babies while they're sitting in their parents' laps, and says most of them don't seem to notice anything during the actual adjustment.)

If eliminating allergens and getting a few adjustments doesn't help the problem, the other possibility is that the way your son's ears are shaped makes him more prone to ear infections. I don't know of any remedy for this other than having tubes put in. This is obviously a last resort, because any surgical procedure has much more risks than non-invasive treatments, but it has provided relief to tons of kids with chronic ear infections.

Does anyone else know more about chronic ear infections and have any tips to eliminate them?