Ear Infections and Food- Is There a Connection?

Over the last years, I have noticed that quite a few children we knew suffered from recurrent ear infections. That struck me as odd, as ear infections were not a major issue when I was a kid.

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I never encountered that problem in Europe, but maybe our kids were too young when we lived there and I might have not been around to many other parents with children. While living in the US and Australia, I have noticed lots of ear infections and found out that over 80% of American children have at least one ear infection during their first three years of life. Quite a few friends of our kids had tubes permanently put into their ears, which tended to fall out at the most inconvenient moment or underwent more invasive treatment. Usually, and to my surprise, ear infections were treated most of the time right away with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are compounds that either inhibit or cease the growth of microbes by targeting cellular functions that are required for maintenance and replication. As a result of exposure to environmental antibiotics (e.g in animal products like meat) or antibiotic therapeutic overuse, the microbes can develop a resistance to antibiotics. This resistance might result in the inability to treat an acute infection which will lead to the death of the patient. In other words, a curable, harmless infection can transform into a life threatening disease.

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“TIME MAGAZINE” devoted a large article called “How to Stop SUPERBUGS” on that topic stating that “Among that group (of microbes) are ordinary bacteria that have developed such resistance to antibiotics that scientists refer to them as superbugs.

The World Health Organization says bacterial resistance has reached “alarming levels in many parts of the world” and warns that the problem is so serious, it threatens the achievements of modern medicine.”

Another undesired side effect of antibiotics is the elimination of beneficial gut bacteria. This should not be taken lightly, as these healthy microbes protect us against pathogens and contribute to immune function; it takes a long time for the healthy bacterial populations to recover after a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics should be reserved for serious infections, not those that will resolve efficiently on their own.

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The majority of ear infections, whether bacterial, viral or mixed, clear up on their own. Usually the symptoms resolve within four days in children over two. Guidelines from the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend that for most children over the age of two with mild symptoms, delaying antibiotics is appropriate. Especially since the first ear infections a child gets are most often viral, not bacterial, there is a large benefit to giving the body time to resolve the infection on its own without an antibiotic (which don’t work on viruses, anyway). Worsening signs that may be suggestive an antibiotic is indicated are ear pain and fever (over 102) for three days continuous. Viral syndromes usually have lower fevers in the morning and higher at night, so a higher fever in the morning is suggestive of a bacterial infection.

Antibiotic prescriptions for ear infections are beginning to decrease, as physicians have become aware of the problem of antibiotic overuse and the very limited benefit provided by antibiotics for ear infections. However, it is still common practice in many countries to routinely treat ear infections with antibiotics, whether they are bacterial or not (in which the use of antiobiotics are not even indicated).

In the light of creating antiobiotic resistance, one problem might be how to target ear infections. But the questions remains: why do we see so many ear infections nowadays in the first place?

What many parents don’t know is that quite often the “hidden” cause of many ear infections in children are food allergies. Children can be born with allergies to food or may develop them for several reasons.

Food allergies are common especially in the first three years of life. Studies have found out that as many as 79% of children with recurrent ear infections get them because of allergies. The most common foods that children may be allergic to are:

  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Egg whites
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Peanuts

Here is the ultimate question everybody is interested in:

How can foods cause ear infections?
An allergic reaction can cause the tube connecting the ear to the throat to swell. When this happens, fluids that normally contain bacteria in the throat get trapped in the ear. The warm, dark tube in the ear is a perfect place for bacteria to grow. This can cause an ear infection. Signs that your child may have an ear infection are runny or stuffy nose, cough, fever, or irritability. So if your child suffers from recurrent ear infections you might want to assess whether they have underlying food allergies.

Australia has one of the highest allergic incidence rates in the developed world. But the biggest rise in food allergies is being seen not in adults but in children under five, as shown by data published in the October issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2007;120:878-84).

In the US, food allergies are the 3rd common chronic disease among children under 18 years old.

If you would like to check out the stats of your own country, visit this website http://barbfeick.com/vaccinations/allergy/403-statistics.htm

You are what you eat. So true…

Cheers,

Ursula

 

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2 comments

  • Shannon October 21, 2015  

    Great article Ursula, I think I will pass on to Kris’s mom as Kris gets ear infections all the time. May not be related but can’t hurt to share the information.
    Ps – your site looks great! I love it.

    • ursulahienz October 22, 2015  

      Hi Shannon,
      Thanks for your feedback! Really appreciate it. Hope B will read the post. xx