Ear Infections and the Antibiotic Epidemic

Ear infections appear so common that at times they seem almost like a childhood rite of passage. Often associated with redness, swelling, and pain within the ear, they are the number one reason antibiotics are prescribed for children. Has their use lead to the antibiotic epidemic? Perhaps.

We’re finding more and more that the prolific prescription of antibiotics is not the panacea it was once thought to be. Not only do antibiotics disrupt healthy digestion, but overuse can even lead to antibiotic resistance.

The Results of the Antibiotic Epidemic

Multiple studies have demonstrated that antibiotic resistance is on the rise, mainly due to the fact that they have been over-prescribed for the past century without regard to the possible implications in the long term. The good news is this: a study by Cochrane showed that only 1 in 20 children sustained an ear infection that necessitated the use of antibiotics. The other 19 were able to beat the infection naturally without medication. A study augmenting this data used chinchillas, whose ear structure is very similar to humans. The study showed that waiting several days before using antibiotics strengthened the chinchillas’ natural immune response and enabled them to fight the infection more efficiently. It is believed that delaying the use of antibiotics encourages the body’s own immune defense to take action while giving medication immediately trains the body to think that the infection is being taken care of, and thus that it doesn’t need to work as hard to defeat it.

Perhaps a more acute concern when taking antibiotics is the effect it has on gut health. While the body has the ability to restore healthy gut bacteria, it may take as much as six months for the body to rebuild its microbiome after a stint of antibiotics lasting as little as 4 days. Even when the digestive flora has mostly recovered, studies show that it usually doesn’t recover completely, and, perhaps more alarmingly, that there is an increased presence of harmful bacteria within the system. The presence of beneficial digestive bacteria is directly linked not only to digestive ability but also the synthesis of nutrients and enteric nerve function, processes which are indispensable to growing children.

What the Body Knows

While antibiotics certainly are helpful when used appropriately, and have benefitted many people since their discovery, the concern is more that they are prescribed far more commonly than is medically necessary. The body is a highly intelligent organism intrinsically geared towards health and balance within itself. It can be easy to forget that health always starts with the building blocks we give it; a strong foundation is vital to the overall structure. We can create that foundation in our bodies, and those of our children, through a diet rich in a rainbow of vegetables, plenty of sleep, healthy movement, and mindfulness. Probiotics and multivitamins may be helpful, as well, if your pediatrician deems them appropriate.

If ear infections seem inescapable for your little ones, rest assured there are additional things you can do to reduce the frequency or severity. Natural herbs, such as garlic and mullein, are a helpful ingredient in eardrops to reduce pain and inflammation. Avoiding smoke and synthetic fragrances in the home also reduce incidents of ear infections.

While we may not be able to see it, the body is always working to create an equilibrium of health and wellbeing. Although herbs and prescriptions can help it along when applicable, ultimately the body possesses an innate intelligence that nothing can replace.

For more insight into ear infections, ways to treat them, and how to avoid being part of the antibiotic epidemic, listen to our podcast, Mom Driven, Doctor Aligned.

Note: I feel so strongly about the need for great natural tools to address kids common discomforts that I’ve worked with the team at Bambini Furtuna to develop beautiful, pure products to meet that need. Click here to learn about Bambini Furtuna’s Ear Rescue Drops.

Published on: January 24, 2020
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
No comments yet. Start the conversation!
Add your comment