Ear Infections and Food Allergies


Ear infections in children are incredibly poorly treated and managed medically, and often represent one of the first signs and symptoms in an individual who is likely to have chronic food allergy issues, including Autoimmune diseases in genetically predisposed individuals. Everyone of us either suffered with these issues as kids, or know someone who suffered with them.

Medically, they are treated as infectious entities. I'm going to suggest to you that the infectious part of these conditions is actually a SYMPTOM of a bigger and more troublesome condition, and I'm going to give you a very logical and easy to understand explanation as to why!

The typical "cycle" for a child afflicted with these infections is as follows. The child develops signs or symptoms of an ear infection. They are taken to the Doctor and recommended antibiotics (in North America anyway...). They take the antibiotics and the infection appears to resolve. What usually happens next? Eventually another ear infection develops and the cycle repeats itself. For some children this cycle can go on for years until eventually they "out grow" them. (They actually don't out grow them, they grown INTO them... I will explain this below.) In chronic cases the child will ultimately have tubes placed through the ear drum to drain the fluid from the inner ear to resolve the infections.

In 99% of these cases, the infection is simply a symptom of a more troublesome (long term) issue... a hidden food allergy.

How can this happen?

You need to have some basic anatomy and physiology background to understand how this works. The inner ear is the balance center for the body. It produces a fluid which swirls around the inner ear and gives us feedback through a complicated neurological pathway to the brain about balance. This fluid is produced constantly in the inner ear and as new fluid is produced, the excess fluid drains from the inner through the Eustachian Tube to the back of the throat. This fluid production and drainage is a constant and critical process for balance and "ear health".

Ear infections occur when the drainage canal (eustachian tube) becomes blocked and the fluid in the inner ear has no where to drain. The fluid stagnates and bacteria normally found in the inner begin to multiply and ultimately over grow, causing the infection. The common sense and logical solution to this dilemma would be to identify what causes the eustachian tube to become blocked, fix this and open the tube up, and the infections would stop. Logical hey...

That's not what happens. The Doctors prescribe antibiotics to address the bacterial overgrowth and symptoms caused by this (infection) but these drugs don't address the blocked Eustachian tube, and eventually the bacterial problem will begin once again. In chronic cases, the Doctors place tubes in the ears to drain the fluid this way, and the infections stop. Why don't we unblock the tube that is naturally in place to fix the infections that way !

How do food allergies lead ear infections? Remember I said the Eustachian tube leads to the back of the throat. When we drink milk, some of these milk components can come in contact with the Eustachian tube outlet and some can actually enter up into the tube. This tube is a mucous lined tube just like oral mucosa and the rest of the GI tract. This mucosal lining has antibodies in it (IgA). Suppose a small child with a milk allergy drinks milk and some of the milk proteins get into the Eustachian tube. The antibodies in the Esutachian tube will cause an allergic reaction to these milk ingredients. An allergic reaction in a mucosal membrane causes the membrane to get inflamed and when this tissue gets inflamed it swells, just like a welt on your skin would. The Eustachian tube in an infant is extremely narrow, and if it gets inflamed the tube can swell up and become completely blocked. Hence... the primary cause of the ear infection! If you address the allergy, decrease the inflammation in eustachian tube and hence the swelling in the tube, the tube will open again, drain and the bacteria will be flushed out and unable to initiate the infection process. A very simple solution.

One common "argument" I hear is that if this was the case, then the ear infections should continue as long as the individual continues to drink the allergic food/liquid. This isn't the case as we know many kids with chronic ear infections "out grow" them. I put "out grow" in parenthesis for a reason. These kids don't really "out grow" the infections, they GROW INTO THEM. What do I mean?

When the child is an infant, the eustachian tube is extremely narrow, and it doesn't take much inflamation to cause the tube to become occluded. Eventually the infant grows as does the diameter of the eustachian tube. At some point in the development of the child, the eustachian tube will be of sufficent enough diameter to allow it stay open and drain, IN SPITE OF the inflammation caused by the food allergy. At this point in the childs developement, the ear infections will stop, but the critical thing to remember here is the FOOD ALLERGY AND THE INFLAMMATION ASSOCIATED WITH IT IS STILL HAPPENING! The SYMPTOM of the food allergy disappeared; the food allergy itself didn't disappear.

Another common argument against this concept is the old school medical stand by explanation for these infections being caused by things like Swimmer's Ear and such. I'll concede these "bugs" are commonly found in swabs and testing of ear infection sufferers. The question I would have for these nea sayers would be that if these bugs caused ear infections in sufferers, how come they don't cause ear infections in all of those who swim in the same pool, lake or ocean?

These bugs can get into the fluid in the inner ear, and just like the bacteria in the gut, can be harmless. In most of us, this is the case. But in an individual who has an underlying inflammation in the eustachian tube and has resulting drainage issues, these bugs can "linger" in the inner ear and cause problems. They otherwise would likely be flushed from the inner ear before causing any problems.

Ear infections are a common symptom of underlying food allergies.


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Dr. Scott Woodworth
Naturopathic Doctor

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