Written by Chiropractors Dr. Jess and Dr. Diane
‘Tis the season of the dreaded ear infection, right?
Ear infections are incredibly common throughout the year, and can affect anyone of any age. Both research and our clinical experience indicate they frequently accompany or follow a recent upper respiratory infection, and that the majority are self-limiting (they can clear on their own, or are viral and antibiotics are not required). Yet, even still, we see many children who present in our office with chronic ear infections who have been given several rounds of antibiotics. This can negatively impact their gut flora and further challenge the immune response. Often these children get referred to an ENT to have a Myringotomy where tubes are surgically placed in the ears to drain fluid.
For adults, ear infections can present as an abrupt onset of ear pain or fullness, hearing difficulty, low-grade fevers, dizziness, and cold-like symptoms. For a child, however, it may be more difficult to pinpoint as it can commonly arise as poor feeding, difficulty sleeping, more irritability or crying, tugging or hitting their ear, head or jaw, and fever. In fact, around 75% kids will have experienced an ear infection by the time they’re 3 years old!
When we’re talking about ear infections, or more officially, Otitis Media (middle ear infection), the cause is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, located just behind the ear drum. The Eustachian tube (or auditory tube) connects the inner ear to the nasopharynx to drain into the throat. Its two main functions are to channel liquid or mucous from the middle ear, and to equalize pressure between the ear and the mouth – which is what allows our ears to “pop”
when we’re on a plane. If this tube is not draining as effectively as it should, it can lead to what we know as an ear infection.
WHY is this, you ask?
Most notably this is due to the orientation and function of their Eustachian tubes. In babies and young children, the Eustachian tubes are MORE HORIZONTAL, SHORTER, MORE FLEXIBLE, and NARROWER. These tubes in a child are half the length of an adult’s Eustachian tube, sit at 10 degrees of downward slope vs. 45 degrees in an adult, and because they’re more narrow and flexible, they are more susceptible to being affected by surrounding muscles, tissues, or misalignments in our bony structure. These anatomical differences make it more difficult for the tube to drain. Tubes that do not drain properly can be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Fun (or not so fun) fact, this is why children cry more often when landing while on a plane as they have a difficult time equalizing pressure due to these anatomical differences.
Both our clinical experience and case studies show that Chiropractic adjustments can aid in reducing both the symptoms of an ear infection and as an effective tool to facilitate optimal nerve flow and drainage to prevent re-occurrence.
What does this look like?
We see that the atlas bone (C1) or top bone in the spinal column will
typically be SUBLUXATED (misaligned) in children who experience ear infections. When out of alignment two things occur:
1) An interference to free-flowing nerve energy that dampens the immune
2) The structural shift of a few millimetres can obstruct or pull on the tiny
muscles that attach to the Eustachian tube creating a backup of fluid. The
nerves in the upper cervical region influence the function of these muscles around the Eustachian tube. By applying gentle chiropractic adjustments to the upper cervical region, nerve flow is restored, and the surrounding
muscles relax which allow the ears to drain naturally. Checking and correcting the spine for any Subluxations (misalignments) on a regular basis, can aid in proper drainage and prevention of future ear infections.
Sinus and lymphatic drainage
The goal is to support muscle relaxation, lymphatic
drainage, and the optimal drainage of sinuses through gentle soft tissue releases.
Finding a Chiropractor who is comfortable working with children, and who also works
intraorally (in the mouth) is particularly important for this one.
Tongue Tie Assessment
Bet you didn’t see this one coming! When someone has a
tongue tie, the tongue is unable to rest on the roof of the mouth – which is essential for proper formation and development of the jaw and palate. One of the potential consequences of a tongue tie is a high-arched palate (roof of mouth), crowded teeth, and compressed sinuses. This leads to improper swallow patterns, and recurrent congestion – which leave the ear more susceptible to infections (think about when you yawn, swallow, or chew and how this helps to clear your ears). Furthermore, tongue-tied individuals are often mouth breathers, which is the perfect environment for an ear infection (or any infection) to develop as the mouth doesn’t filter the air we breathe nearly as well as our nose does. This causes more bacteria and viruses to enter our body, that our nose would potentially filter out. Getting assessed by an experienced professional who works with tethered oral tissue (tongue tie) diagnosis and/or bodywork, for potential involvement of poor tongue function in the development of ear infections is a great start.
As Chiropractors who love working with children, we have the honour of seeing many children in our care that use regular adjustments as a way to both help prevent ear infections, and aid in the drainage/ healing if one does arise. Chiropractic adjustments have become popular among many parents as a natural, way to promote and enhance healthy and happy ears. To be clear, Chiropractic adjustments are not a method for treating ear infections, but rather a
tool that improves the function of the nervous system, aids in facilitating optimal drainage, and optimizing nerve function to allow the body to heal itself.
Click here to learn more about Chiropractic Care at The WOMB and to book your appointment.