Recurrent Ear Infections and Dietary Triggers

Toddler in colorful shirt and bib at the prime age for recurrent ear infections.Ear infections (aka otitis media, acute otitis media, or AOM for short) can be common in children – and when they become chronic it affects the whole family. By the age of three, it’s reported that 71% of children have had one or more ear infection – and 33% of these children have had three or more episodes. An ear infection is the most common reason why children under six are prescribed antibiotics.

In young children, the anatomy of the Eustachian tube (the small canal that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat) increases ear infection risk: it is shorter, narrower and does not drain as readily as in older children and adults.

However, for some children, dietary irritants may also contribute to repeat ear infections by causing swelling of the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes, blocking the tubes, and trapping germs.

Who is at Risk for Recurrent Ear Infections?

Ear infections tend to be more common in children with eczema, asthma, and hayfever, conditions that have been linked to food allergy or sensitivity. Specific foods, such as cow milk, egg, soy and wheat have been reported as triggers.

Research has also shown that children with recurrent ear infections may be more likely to experience gastresophaegeal reflux disease (GERD).

Identifying and removing of a potential food trigger, such as cow milk, from the maternal diet (if the baby is breastfed), and/or changing formula is considered an important first-line therapy.

Addressing the Root Cause of Recurrent Ear Infections

There are many factors that may increase the risk of developing recurrent ear infections. If you suspect that your child’s symptoms stem from food sensitivity, trading out a common dietary irritant to stop the inflammatory cascade, such as cow milk, for an easier digest option, such as goat milk, may reduce ear infection risk. It’s a small change that can make a big difference for the whole family.


Photo credit: Joe Jungmann Follow

Annie Salsberg ND

Dr. Annie is a board-certified naturopathic physician and Nutritional Science and Education Manager for Kabrita USA. Dr. Annie’s passion for nutrition and natural health, along with her experience as a mother of two and educator of many, inspires her work.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. Carol Homann

    Many researchers have laid the blame on dairy, witnessing the following accounts. “Milk allergies are very common in children… They are the leading cause of the chronic ear infections that plague up to 40% of all children under the age of six.”
    Julian Whitaker, M.D., “Health & Healing,” October, 1998, Volume 8, No. 10 

    “Breastfeeding protects US infants against the development of diarrhea and ear infection.” Pediatrics 1997 Jun;99(6):E5 
    “If a bottlefed baby has an ear infection, eliminate milk and dairy products from the child’s diet for thirty days to see if any benefits result…a cause of frequent ear infections in children is food allergies.”
    James Balch, MD, “Prescription for Nutritional Healing” ISBN 0-89529-727-2 

    “Concerning ear infections, You just don’t see this painful condition among infants and children who aren’t getting cow’s milk into their systems.”
    William Northrup, M.D., Natural Health July, 94 

    Even Dr Spock waded in to this issue;
    Cow’s milk has become a point of controversy among doctors and nutritionists. There was a time when it was considered very desirable, but research has forced us to rethink this recommendation… dairy products contribute to a surprising number of health problems (including) chronic ear problems…”
    Benjamin Spock, M.D., “Child Care,” 7th Edition 

  2. Kino

    Avoiding cows milk and other dairy related foods can be a big problem.
    Dairy is in practically everything. Breads, soups, cakes, cookies, icecream, and more. It becomes a matter of label reading and discarding everything that even looks suspicious. It involves avoiding take aways, Macca’s, Kentucky fried, and other chain fast food outlets. They all use dairy and sugar because they know these are addictive foods. These outlets are also places where their school mates hang out which means isolating them. I know because I am one of those allergic to dairy and potato. It is a big problem and I wish you well.


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