My inspiration for writing this article is born out of my growing respect for the relationship I see between the ailments in adults and their experience as children. The two may be so intricately tied they are inseparable.
What we learn as children is significantly determined by what adults teach. And where do we, as adults, teach from? I think it’s usually from our own experience as children, less from the formality of schooling and our experience as adults.
How can we give our children the best of what there is to know? What’s best is hard to say. Important, I think, is helping our children understand and think for themselves. Without an early grasp of our inner resources and potential, we become prey to the illusion that the world is wiser than we are, that the relentless momentum of data and technology holds our destiny in its constantly changing hands. But education is more than data input. It is also a process of unfolding the intuitive knowledge that lies within our hearts, and the hearts of our children.
With knowledge and awareness comes the freedom of choice and the privilege of responsibility. Mothers and fathers provide far greater influence on the general health of their children than any practitioner can. So what is the role of the doctor? I think the essence of doctoring is teaching-helping others find and encourage the doctor within.
Perhaps the greatest torment for parents is when their children suffer. It often moves us, like nothing else, to heights of compassion and helplessness rarely experienced at any other time in our lives. When feeling helpless, most parents put themselves at the mercy of the doctor. This dependence is perpetuated by practitioners who limit their service to cursory exams and prescriptions and consequently by-passing the rich opportunity for teaching.
It works best when the doctor and patient help each other by exchanging information so both become more informed and adept about giving care. When the doctor takes the time to listen and understand the person with the illness, treatment can be tailored to the individual. In turn, the patient can take more responsibility for home care and self healing.
I have noticed that once parents learn more about how to help their children, their need to go to the doctor is much less. And when they do visit, they are more informed, question with precision, and enhance the whole process of insuring better health care for their children.
As parents educate and believe in themselves more, their children become more aware of who they are, how their marvelous body works, and what it takes to restore and maintain health. Perhaps then, young people may appreciate the wisdom of our elders, “your health is your greatest gift.”
As most parents know, ear infections are common in young children. In fact, by age five almost every kid in the USA has had at least one ear infection. Many parents and doctors think ear infections are more common than they used to be. In the US alone, over 25 million doctor visits occur annually because of ear infections, accounting for at least $3 billion in direct costs and as much as $6 billion in indirect costs (lost wages, etc.).
For many children ear infections are recurrent. And this can be a source of great stress for not only the child, but certainly for us parents. The biggest trouble with ear infections is not necessarily the child or infection itself but the way the condition is understood, and consequently treated.
Too often, doctors and hopeful parents turn to prescription antibiotics and medical intervention as the only answer. I see many cases where the infection frequently returns after the antibiotic is stopped. The antibiotic also becomes less effective the more it is repeated, so doctors and parents anxiously turn to other varieties of antibiotics. Stress and costs mount. Ear “tubes” may be inserted. General health and immunity weaken. Chronic problems develop.
In my experience, only a small percentage of ear infections require prescription antibiotics and intervention. But it takes a health oriented approach.
The child and infection, the treatment, the parents and doctor are all at the mercy of their understanding of disease—why it happens, where it comes from, what to do about it. To understand disease we must first understand what constitutes health. How each of us interacts with the world we live within will determine the greatest influence on our biology and resistance to disease. The greatest percentage of our health is determined by the everyday choices we make in caring for ourselves and our children.
Most disease processes, including ear infections, are the result of the body’s natural effort to heal itself. What happens when we approach health by assisting the body’s effort to heal itself? When doing so, we must embrace the symptoms and look closely at what the body is trying to say when it produces, for instance, an ear infection. Like the ear itself, we need to be good listeners.
First, let’s identify the common symptoms of an ear infection—those messengers who show up from within to tell us what’s going on in our immune system.
The symptoms may be elusive at first, such as crankiness, changes in eating or nursing behavior, a runny nose, talking louder, or less responsive to words. But when children cry or shriek with pain, tug or rub their ears, and become feverish or show discharge from the ear, the ailment becomes more blatant. The first ear infection may take longer for us parents to detect, but once we become familiar with the child’s body language, we can act more quickly.
One can easily see that these symptoms aren’t specific to ear infections. Other conditions may have the same or similar symptoms: teething, wax build-up, sinusitis, embedded foreign objects in the ear canal, emotional upsets, allergies, the common cold or flu and so on.
Unless as parents we can exercise some means of distinguishing one from another, the symptoms can be perplexing and frustrating. At this point the doctor is usually called. That’s a good idea, but a lot of what the doctor does parents can also do. Parents who become more skillful with self-care can enhance the resourcefulness of the doctor. I think this helps demystify medicine as belonging only to the doctor. The capacity we have to help ourselves if far greater than what most of us actually practice.
Medical Terms and Conventional Treatment
The medical term for ear pain is “otalgia.” The medical term for ear inflammation is “otitis.” Inflammation in the external canal is “otitis externa.” The most common location for otitis in children is in the middle ear. This is called “otitis media.”
The conventional treatment for most cases of otitis is antibiotics. Analgesics and decongestants are also used, but not as often. When otitis media recurs with retention of fluid in the middle ear, a myringotomy (surgical slit of ear drum) may be performed to insert “tubes” into the middle ear for drainage and pressure equalization. In the United States more than one million tubes are inserted each year. Ear tubes are the most common childhood surgery with anesthesia.
The effectiveness of antibiotics and ear tubes has been the subject of several studies over the past recent years. There is conflicting evidence as to the effectiveness and usefulness of antibiotics for otitis media. Research also shows that recurrent ear infections are more likely in children who have been treated with antibiotics in early stage of otitis media. There are strong indications that otitis in most kids is the result of allergies or sensitivities to food.
How Ears Get Infected
Look at the ears. The ear is a wonder, a truly marvelous sense organ of remarkable design. Study the illustration.
The earlobe and outer ear funnel into the external ear canal, which leads to the eardrum. The eardrum is a thin taut membrane that stretches across the entire diameter of the canal. The ear drum separates the external ear from the middle ear.
The middle ear also houses the upper end of the Eustachian tube, a narrow passageway leading to the back of the throat. This tube is very important because it drains the middle ear of fluid and equalizes pressure. The lining of the middle ear and Eustachian tube is mucus membrane. The cellular structure of this tissue has a rapid turnover rate, replacing itself anew minute by minute. The mucus membrane constantly secretes a thin, slippery fluid. Both of these processes (rapid cell renewal and mucus production), are natural methods of protection, and one of the first lines of immune defense.
When confronted with enough toxic debris, these mucus membranes become irritate and secrete fluids faster than they can drain, causing blockage. Consequently, fluid accumulates in the Eustachian tubes and middle ear chambers. Air pressure then becomes unequal and may cause a full or irritating sensation. If the condition persists, the backed-up fluid becomes soil for bacterial growth, setting the stage for infection. Consequently, inflammation and its by-products (swelling, redness, heat, pain) create noticeable symptoms.
Like damming up a free flowing stream, the back-water becomes vulnerable to bacterial overgrowth and stagnation. Dumping chemicals in the pond to kill the overgrowth does little to unblock the stream and re-establish free flow.
The important question here is What is enabling the ear to become infected? Are the canals or eustachian tubes blocked? A foreign body? Injury? Could it have something to do with an allergy? Food sensitivities—eating food that is not completely digested and assimilated properly, or airborne irritants? Structural limitation or interference? Home environment, hygiene, vaccine?
Pursuing and determining the cause will lead to resolution and improved overall health. A careful study of diet, medical and family history, environment, metabolic design and personal stress are all important considerations in understanding the underlying reason for the production of symptoms. If we can treat the causes, then prevention becomes a natural part of one’s daily practice and lifestyle.
Treatment for acute otitis is an immediate concern because of the pain, possible fever, infection and consequences of neglect. So it is important that whatever remedial care is given that it be effective and safe. What treatment is viable with or in place of prescription antibiotics or interventive therapies? Serious consideration will find individualized, physician-assisted botanical preparations, homeopathic care, hydro/physiotherapy and certain nutraceuticals within reach of safe and effective options.
However, the disappearance of symptoms does not mean that health has been restored. Once the acute otitis is resolved, comprehensive care and education can reduce susceptibility and prevent recurrence. Care and support can be then be administered to the person, not merely the illness. What one person must do to prevent otitis will differ from what another must do. What started out as an ear infection can become the gateway to a higher state of health.
Systems of health-oriented care that traditionally do this include: naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, ayurvedic, classical homeopathic medicine and common-sense integrative health care.
Not all treatments for otitis, or any other illness, are intrinsically beneficial to the overall health of the individual. The disappearance of symptoms is not necessarily the indication that the health has been restored.
Suppression occurs when treatment for the immediate condition (otitis) results in a lower state of health. Common examples of this are: increased frequency of infections, lowered vitality increased dependency upon the medicine, and the development of chronic or more serious illnesses.
Suppression means just that: to keep from being known. Except for emergent, life-threatening circumstances, I have not seen suppressive measures serve the general welfare of the individual. If symptoms are messengers of what the body is attempting to make known and correct, suppression submerges this force only to see it appear somewhere else.
Working with the effort the body generates to balance itself exemplifies non-suppressive healing practices.
Otitis media is not to be taken lightly. Common complications include hearing loss and secondary bacterial infections that may lead to chronic problems. Infrequent but serious complications may arise, such as: Mastoiditis, infection of the bony cells just behind the ear, can lead to hearing loss and bone erosion. Swelling, point tenderness, and pain in this area are reasons for consulting your physician.
Meningitis is another complication. This involves inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membrane. Symptoms include severe or persistent headache, stiff neck, vomiting, and marked changes in mood. Again, consulting your physician about such symptoms is only wise.
Even more rare is labrynthitis, which may occur when inflammation extends to the balancing apparatus of the internal ear. The significant symptoms here are severe dizziness and nausea, worse with movement.
Deafness and hearing loss are other rare possibilities, occurring usually as the result of neglect or injury.
One of the best opportunities to learn about ourselves is through our childhood illnesses. Ear infections are no exception.
The most susceptible aspects of our mental, emotional, and physical being will present themselves when we become ill. Through proper care we can illumine the dis-ease and understand how to truly help ourselves and our children. A thorough study of what we eat, how we think, our emotional experience, the environment we live in, hygiene, predisposing factors, and health education all lend themselves to prevention.
Years of clinical observation and recent research show the most ear infections begin as a by-product of inflammation from undue exposure to an unfriendly agent, be it an environmental agent or food derivative. Thankfully, we can test for these now and shorten the quest for the answer.
The significance of how and what we eat is grossly undervalued. The very composition and function of the body is exquisitely facilitated by food. The quality of the food we eat determines the quality of cellular structure and function. Because metabolic design varies from person to person we need to determine what foods assist and aggravate each individual’s metabolism. One person’s food can be another’s poison.
We eat and drink because without food and water we would quickly die. More and more are realizing that the quality of our food and water significantly determines how well we live. It is not as simple as just eating. What we eat is equally important.
Today’s foods contain many nonfood elements: chemicals for production, processing, coloring, preserving, and marketing. The soil is becoming more depleted of nutrients. Toxin-free nutrient-rich foods cannot be surpassed as an essential resource.
Teaching a child what foods to eat and which to avoid is one of the best means of prevention. The short and long term benefits are immense. It would produce a radical reduction in the frequency and seriousness of childhood illnesses, let alone ear infections, and a drastic drop in medical bills. In the long run, chronic disease would lessen.
Find a physician or practitioner who is trained in clinical nutrition and understands how to evaluate the role of food for your growing child.
Sanitation is fundamental to health and disease reversal. Personal, community, and global cleanliness sets the stage for personal and environmental health. Because we manufacture and use extremely toxic materials, we need to learn how to recognize and minimize our exposure to unfriendly products and conditions. What we teach children about hygiene must be harmonized with the world we live in.
Cleaning the ears is tricky-especially because of the delicate ear drum. I usually recommend against attempting to clean the ear canal with Q-tips, bobby pins or anything less than the size of your elbow! Let a doctor show you how, if you want to learn. There are certain procedures that you can safely do at home.
The body is designed to clean itself via good hydration. So be sure to teach to teach kids that water is the best beverage to drink.
Love & Environment
Vital to life is love. A newborn provided with all the vital elements-food, water, warmth, clothing, shelter, hygiene-everything, except being cherished, will not thrive. As adults, we play an essential and vital role here.
As we rely upon love, food and water for life inside our body, we are dependent upon our environment for life outside our body. The quality of food, air, soil, water, and light determines the life-supporting power of our body and planet. It’s an intricate web of interdependence.
The quality of a child’s home life is also an environmental factor, no different, really, than the quality of soil found by the plant seed. The child seed will develop in relation to its environs-withering where forsaken, flourishing where cherished.
The brilliance of children is that they want to know everything possible about the world they live in. When we answer their questions with great care, be it at home or in the doctor’s office, the world becomes not only a more interesting and safe place, but the power of our resistance to disease is greatly enhanced.
Predisposition does not mean what you are destined to experience. It merely refers to our susceptibility, how we are vulnerable.
The experience and health of our parents and preceding relatives influences each of us. Chronic ear infections are no exception.
Parents with addictions, allergies or certain diseases or maladies may predispose their offspring to be susceptible to the same. Conception will bring forth not only a child, but a universe of inherited information. It’s just thenature of life. Life has a way of revealing the irresolution’s of the past, not for the sake of punishment, but for the return of harmony and balance. Understanding this can be part of the solution.
By understanding the factors that contribute to susceptibility, choices become more conscientious and less subject to mere tendency. Homeopathy is well known for its ability to address pre-disposition.
What Caregivers Can Do
Learn how to use an otoscope. There are numerous sites and stores that carry inexpensive hand-held scopes for examining the ear. Examination can help inform yourself and the doctor about what's happening.
Ear Drops. Pure olive oil/garlic drops. These are available OTC or can easily be made at home by infusing extra virgin olive oil with fresh cut garlic. 3 drops in each ear, chased with a cotton plug to prevent dribbling.
Breast milk. A few drops of fresh breast milk into the ear canal may bring relief.
Warming Socks. In cases where pain and fever prevail, warming socks can bring quick relief: Warm up the feet if they're cold. Pull on a thin pair of cotton socks wrung out from cold water. Over these pull a dry pair of wool socks. Leave on until the cold wet socks are dry.
Homeopathics. If you or your doctor are familiar with homeopathy, specific remedies can be administered from home for effective treatment of otitis.
Comprehensive personal health care is powerful medicine. The best care is usually fascilitated by informed choices. The word “doctor” comes from the Greek word docere, which means to teach. Hopefully, more of us doctors realize this. The more people know how to help and heal themselves, the less vulnerable we are to distress, disease and costly doctoring.
Ears are divine receptacles for hearing what we need to know. Even when infected. Doctoring and healing an ear infection, be it through self help or a professional, means carefully listeningto the messages we discern as “otitis ” and faithfully applying the lessons learned.
For The Children
The rising hills, the slopes,
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say, are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers