DR. LEPISTO: School’s in and so are ear infections
Free Press Health Columnist
There are a good number of sick children in school these days. A local teacher I spoke with recently described her colleagues and kids as “dropping like flies,” both from general colds and ear infections. I happen to have the trace of a delightful ear infection beginning right now, in my case probably a gift of Colorado River water. That slight fullness, soreness when I blow my nose and a little low-grade irritation is sure to be shortly more annoying if I do nothing about it.
I do love to kayak in our river, but it is far from clean and unfortunately the contaminants are more than just sediment. It’s not a very pleasant thought, but there is plenty of reason to suspect a good amount of pesticides, sewage and bacteria in the water, especially after many of the big rains we’ve been having. On a more pleasant note, I’d like to address some of the more successful ways at keeping our ears and entire immune system healthy.
No good discussion on treating an ear infection would have much merit without addressing the cause(s). In my case, some dirty water didn’t help much, even though I use a handy set of ear plugs from our own river shop Whitewater West called “Doc’s Pro Plugs.” These will be handy for any regular swimmer or someone with recurring ear infections. Make sure they fit well, as poorly-fitting plugs serve to trap water inside and lead to more frequent illness.
Food allergies should always be considered, especially wheat and dairy which have a tendency to promote mucus and ear-wax in allergic people. How do you know whether or not you have a food allergy? Blood testing can be clarifying, but these tests are expensive and prone to error, so I usually recommend a two-week period of abstinence and re-introduction, in which the food reaction will be greatly clarified. Unless someone is particularly reactive to a lot of foods (and therefore the test is unclear when eliminating just a few foods), this process can give a lot of feedback.
Anyone with an indulgent sweet tooth will also experience some degree of immune suppression. A dramatic example is one study that was done on bacteria and virus-fighting white blood cells. After drinking one 12-ounce can of Coke, most people’s white blood cell function was essentially “stunned” for eight hours.
Believe it or not, those cotton-tip applicators used for cleaning can also be problematic if done too frequently as they can irritate and injure the canal. Rarely, some drug effects or cosmetics can be a problem.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
Of course, if the child has a fever >104, is listless or otherwise not responding well, make sure you have them evaluated right away by a medical professional so that the appropriate use of antibiotics can be considered. If you witness blood or a clear-fluid discharge, they may also have perforated the ear drum and that’s a medical emergency. You’ll want to know if it’s the internal or external ear, since otitis media (a middle-ear infection) is usually secondary to an upper respiratory infection. Even though many ear infections may be viral, you don’t want to skip antibiotics when it’s really necessary.
Dramatic possibilities aside, most kids and adults just need some help through the discomfort. If you’re not doing so already, start by drinking enough water. No self-respecting immune system can do much without lots of water present. Minimize concentrated simple sugars, including honey, maple syrup, dried fruit, soda, candy, desserts and baked goods. Many people also feel better taking a break from breads, cereals and pastas. Juices are fine as long as they are diluted with water 1:1. If it’s a child with recurrent infections, make sure their nails are cut short so they are not accidentally nicking their ear canals when they inevitably pick in there. If they are lucky enough to still be of breastfeeding age, one of the many perks of breastfeeding is that it also enhances their immunity and inhibits the onset of food allergies.
As for supplements, add some vitamin C to bowel tolerance and zinc to boost the immune system. Most children and adult immune formulas will have these present. Vitamin A can be helpful but because of toxicity concerns shouldn’t be high-dosed without medical supervision. For pain relief, a hot moist towel applied over the ear canal will usually feel good and be relaxing.
And finally, here’s a home remedy for external ear infections that actually works.
Onion earmuff for external ear infections:
1. Cut a small to medium onion in half.
2. Bake one half for each ear affected in the oven or toaster oven until steaming.
3. With a hot pad or over glove, carefully hold the onion just outside the ear canal.
4. The onion vapors will soothe and help draw out any infection.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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