This is a small snapshot of a somewhat typical case of an infant with recurrent Otitis Media, or inflammation or infection of the middle ear. Little ones are prone to ear problems because of their short eustachian tubes, which sometimes cannot ventilate and service the middle ear properly. Ear infections are one of the most common reasons for parents to take infants to see their GP. Because the consequences can sometimes be serious, antibiotics are commonly prescribed. All too often children end up in a cycle of antibiotic use and recurrent infection.
Naturopathic treatment aims to build a stronger immune system and prevent further infection. This involves:
- Reducing any factors which may be reducing immune function or causing congestion
- Supporting immune function
- Building optimal nutrient levels
16 month old Hettie* was brought to my clinic by her mother, who was concerned she may be reacting to certain foods. Hettie had had reflux since birth, and this was resolved completely when Hettie’s mother stopped having dairy foods in her own diet. Hettie had therefore been completely dairy-free since she herself had started on solids, until two months previous when it was decided to try to re-introduce some dairy such as cheese and yoghurt.
Hettie’s mother described her as extremely healthy, with only some bloating that was often visible as a distended tummy. Only when I specifically asked about ear infections did her mother mention that Hettie has had in her short life 7 ear infections, all treated with antibiotics. These had been happening every month for the past 7 months! The last one was 2-3 weeks before coming to the clinic.
Our aims of treatment were primarily, therefore, to build immune resilience and prevent and further ear infections. We also wanted to reduce bloating.
Hettie’s appetite was good and her diet was varied and healthy; her favourite foods were fruit and rice. She is still being breast-fed. On closer investigation Hettie was eating an abundance of fruit as fresh, dried and juiced fruit, and lots of refined grains/flours. I advised Hettie’s mum to:
- Reduce sugars, including fruit sugars
- Increase savoury snacks and protein
I also provided the family with diet sheets full of ideas for meals and snacks suitable for Hettie, recipes and a list of which foods were high in specific nutrients such as calcium, iron and zinc.
Hettie was started on the following supplements:
- Children’s Probiotic
- Children’s Multivitamin/mineral powder
- Child-friendly herbal formula containing extracts of Echinacea root, Elderflower, Ribwort and Peppermint
- Children’s Cod Liver Oil
We also sent Hettie’s hair away to be assessed for Food and Environmental Sensitivities.
Consultation 3 weeks later:
Hettie’s ears have been completely clear since the last visit. Results of her hair analysis show high levels of reactivity to dairy and Candida. There were also significant scores for wheat, sugar, and banana, and minor levels of reactivity to other foods and substances.
Hettie’s family was recommended to avoid dairy completely for 6 weeks, and to reduce as much as possible her intake of banana, wheat, and sugars.
Candida albicans is a natural yeast or fungi that lives throughout our gastro-intestinal tract. When it gets out of control and overgrows it can cause symptoms such as thrush. Antibiotic use is a common trigger for the overgrowth of Candida. Hettie’s recurrent antibiotic use will have had effect on the good bacteria living in her digestive tract, and predisposed her to a Candida overgrowth. When discussing this, Hettie’s mum disclosed that Hettie had indeed had some trouble with thrush since the last visit. We set about treating this overgrowth with a herbal formula and continued on all supplements previously prescribed. Candida is ‘fed’ by sugars, so eliminating these from her diet would also be of use.
Consultation 6 weeks later:
Hettie’s ears continue to be clear, and she has only had two occurrences of bloating and distention since the last visit, and no further thrush. Her herbal remedy was stopped and her mum advised to use it at the first sign of any ear problems.
In subsequent visits, Hettie’s ears continue to be clear and her bloating continues to reduce. Her health and resilience continues to improve over the next few months. More recently we have discussed putting in place the re-introductions of excluded foods. This is to be done systematically and Hettie’s health to monitored along the way. Hettie continues to take her probiotic, her cod liver oil and her multivitamin/mineral powder.
Breaking the cycle of ear infections and antibiotics will have positive consequences for Hettie’s overall health. The wonderful thing about working with infants and children is the knowledge that building a strong foundation and robust immune system in the early years will continue to benefit them throughout their lives.
*names have been changed to protect privacy