Middle ear infection prompts over 30 million visits to the doctor each year in the U.S. alone. In 1990, it was estimated that the number of antibiotic prescriptions given to children for ear infections was over 25 million, with over 1 billion individual doses of antibiotics given to children for ear infections yearly. In other parts of the world (e.g. Scandinavia), physicians use antibiotics only when complications develop or are expected to develop.
Some 88% of ear infections will clear on their own with out antibiotics or other treatment, yet the number one surgical procedure performed in the U.S. is the insertion of tympanostomy tubes (plastic grommets punched through the ear drum under general anaesthetic). Some 2 million are inserted each year, at a cost of over $2 billion. During surgery, accumulated cellular debris is often cleaned from the middle ear to "ventilate" it; this relieves pressure but does little to address the causes of otitis media. Worse still, some 76% of children require replacement tubes within 4 years of initial tube insertion.
At the time of writing, there we no studies demonstrating that tubes work better than non-surgical treatment. Some recent studies, however, have compared tympanostomy tubes to antibiotic therapy and myringotomy. The group with tubes developed a higher rate of recurrent otitis, hearing loss, ear drum retraction, and tympanosclerosis (atrophy and scarring at the site of tube insertion).
Over 30 studies support naturopathic protocols for the treatment of otitis media. Naturopathic treatment consists of screening for food and environmental sensitivities, correcting nutrient deficiencies, and increasing the patient's resistance to disease through natural methods and simple supportive treatment.
Naturopathic practice assumes that several complimentary treatment methods, acting in concert, will be more effective than a singe method used alone. Treatment protocols are individualized. Naturopathic protocol includes the prescribing of antibiotic when appropriate. Some cases may be referred for surgical placement of tympanostomy tubes.
Conventional treatment (antibiotic and surgical) does not affect the long-term incidence or severity of ear infections, or have any long-term cost benefit over no treatment at all. Long-term antibiotic use is medically controversial; studies indicate that children treated with antibiotics have a higher incidence of repeat ear infections when compared to children treated without antibiotics. The most common antibiotics are often associated with adverse toxic side-effects, including diarrhea, vomiting, diaper rash. Bactrim, an antibiotic commonly used to treat ear infections in children, can produce over 60 kinds of side-effects.
In contrast, natural remedies involving identification and elimination of underlying allergies, food sensitivities or nutrient deficiencies can reduce the incidence of a wide variety of subsequent problems. Correction of underlying immune weakness can lower future incidence of otitis and other upper respiratory infections.
In children younger than three years of age who have persistent otitis media, prompt insertion of tympanostomy tubes does not measurably improve developmental outcomes at the age of three years. [NEngl J Med 2001;344: pp.1179-87]
Arabinogalactans appear to offer real value in the treatment of recurrent pediatric otitis media.
This remedy can help if given at the onset of symptoms. The person appears pink and flushed, with fever and a feeling of weariness.
This remedy is indicated if an earache comes on suddenly with cutting, throbbing pain. It may have begun after exposure to cold and wind, or after a shaking experience. The person may be fearful, agitated, and restless. Fever may be high, thirst strong, worse near midnight, and may wake the person up.
Periods of pain that seem intolerable. Children may seem angry, beside themselves, and may scream or hit. They may feel better from being carried constantly and vigorously walked around or rocked. Symptoms are worse from heat and wind, and the cheeks may be hot and red.
This remedy is indicated when an earache is very painful or infection is advanced. Stabbing, sticking pains "like a splinter being driven in" are a likely indication. The person is very sensitive to everything, especially cold and drafts, and may feel vulnerable and touchy.
May help when an earache feels better when warmth and pressure are applied. The pain may be present with little evidence of fluid or infection.
For advanced infections with pus formation, shooting pains, and roaring in the ear. The person is often sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures, has swollen lymph nodes, offensive breath, a puffy tongue, and experience sweating and drooling during sleeping.
Indicated for ear infections that follow or accompany a cold. The ear may be hot and swollen, with a feeling that something is pressing out. Pain can be worse in the evening and at night, as well as worse from heat, with a pulsing sensation. Deep itching may be felt inside, especially if infections are chronic. A child needing Pulsatilla usually is sad and tearful, wanting to be held and comforted.
The insertion of tympanostomy tubes (plastic grommets punched through the ear drum) should be considered if more benign treatments fail.
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