Ear infections in babies and children are one of the most common childhood afflictions parents will come across. It is also the number one reason babies are routinely prescribed antibiotics by their pediatricians. For something as ubiquitous as a runny nose, why are we even giving these strong medications in the first place?
Ask any adult who has gone through the pain of an infected ear drum and they will tell you it is almost unbearable. For parents, especially new parents, watching their normally happy baby scream for no reason is equally unbearable. This begins a phenomenon that is all too common where a child is rushed to their pediatrician with a runny nose or cough and a fever. The doctor then confirms an inner ear infection and routinely prescribes antibiotics. The parent leaves feeling relieved, having a script for meds in hand. Yet they are never told about the “wait and see” period the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. The AAP advises observation alone as the prescribed treatment since 80% of acute ear infections in children resolve naturally in a few days.
Your Pediatricians Office Is Also A Business
I am extremely fortunate to have a next door neighbor who is also a pediatric nurse. I will never forget a conversation we were having one day about ear infections and antibiotics. I was telling her how it just didn’t seem right for a tiny six-month-old baby to be put on antibiotics because of an ear ache and a runny nose. You see we were debating over the issue of how there is no way of knowing whether the infection was viral or bacterial. As much as 50% of the time an ear infection is caused by a virus which would mean antibiotics would not work. She then explained to me how pediatric offices are also a business. Parents demand a product to fix their child and doctors happily supply them. I was stunned. On one end you have working parents who need a quick fix so they can get back to their lives and who don’t even question it because they don’t have the time or energy. One the other side of the spectrum are first time parents, vulnerable and afraid of the unknown and who believe in their pediatrician wholeheartedly. The bottom line is parents aren’t happy unless they leave with a solution in hand.
Antibiotics Have Known Side Effects
For parents who have succumbed to a 10 day course of the pink stuff, they are also inadvertently setting themselves up for a cascade of after effects. This includes but is not limited to:
- antibiotic-induced diarrhea, the most common
- fungal diaper rash, the kind that makes a bum crack and bleed
- oral thrush, which is contagious to nursing moms causing a painful nipple infection
- vomiting, which often happens after you just gave a dose of meds
- allergic rashes including hives, an actual allergy to the antibiotics
- joint damage and swelling, a rare but serious side effect
There Are Several Reasons For Ear Aches
What was surprising to me after having been through many ear aches with my own kids was how often they didn’t have an ear infection. Many times the sinus pressure from a simple cold can build up and cause ear pain. Swimming causes an outer ear infection which can also irritate the ear drum. Last but not least our children are damaging their ear drums at an astounding rate from listening to their screen devices too loudly in a new syndrome called “noise exposure,” or noise induced hearing loss. The number of visits to my pediatricians office for ear checks became so often that I broke down and bought my own otoscope, which I highly recommend. The learning curve is short and I was able to easily spot a perfect eardrum from an angry one.
How To Manage Ear Infections Naturally
After you have made an informed decision not to treat a simple inner ear infection with antibiotics, here is what you can do instead:
- Treat with ibuprofen for pain – avoid tylenol
- Use garlic oil for it’s antiseptic properties
- use this warm salt sock recipe and include essential oils like tea tree or Purification by Young Living
- breastfeed or give high quality probiotics (anything refrigerated and in the billions)
- suction out as much snot as you can (for small babies)
You Can Get Through This
Lastly it is so important to know that you will get through this, I promise. Sometimes it helps mentally to have that prescription called in to your pharmacy ready to go. But if you can get through even two days you have a 60% chance that this will clear on its own. My daughter is extremely sensitive and complained of ear pain for three weeks once. After checking her ears more times than we could count and no bulging eardrum we came to the conclusion that she actually had a sinus infection. That will be a post for another day but for now take good care of those sweet babes and good luck.