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Ear Infections

Earaches and Ear Infections in Children

The parts of the ear are divided into three sections

  • External (outer) ear: The part that is visible, which is also called the auricle or pinna

  • Middle ear: This includes the eardrum (tympanic membrane), 3 small bones (hammer, anvil, and stirrup), and Eustachian tube (which equalizes air pressure and allows the ear to drain)

  • Inner ear: This includes the semicircular canal and cochlea (which is snail shaped)


When kids get an ear infection, the most common area of the ear to be affected is the middle ear. The medical name for a middle ear infection is otitis media. This can happen when a virus or bacteria targets the middle ear. Normally, the Eustachian tube lets fluid drain from the inside of the ear down into the back of the soft palate and then down the throat. When the ear’s Eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked, the ear is unable to drain properly. This creates a warm, moist environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. Fluid build-up can cause the eardrum to become inflamed, and to bulge outward.

Reasons why kids get ear infections more often than adults


  • Children have narrower Eustachian tubes than adults. The small diameter of these tubes makes them more prone to blockage or to swell shut. When warm fluid is trapped in the middle ear, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

  • The Eustachian tubes of adults angle downward at a steeper incline. In children, the Eustachian tubes are more horizontal. This makes it more difficult for fluid to drain properly. The good news is: as children grow, their anatomy changes and their Eustachian tubes become more vertical. This is one reason why many children outgrow ear infections.

  • Kids with childhood allergies may have increased mucus production. This can block the Eustachian tubes.

  • Children who attend nurseries, daycare, or preschool, are exposed to other children who may have a cold or respiratory infection. This places them in contact with some of the same viruses and bacteria that can affect the middle ear.


Signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection


  • Ear pain

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Rubbing, clutching, or pulling the ear

  • Difficulty hearing

  • Child may have cold or flu symptoms


Dangerous symptoms that indicate a medical emergency

  • High fever

  • Stiff neck

  • Skin rash

  • Personality changes

  • Vertigo

  • Confusion

  • Chills

  • Rapid breathing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Severe headache

  • Ice cold hands or feet

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Chest pain

  • Skin color change

  • Swelling or redness behind the ear

  • Child will not wake up

  • Fluid or a colored discharge drains from the ear

  • Child makes unusual, or high pitched sounds

  • The soft spot on top of the head (in infants) begins to bulge outward


What typically to expect with otitis media


If the child has no serious symptoms, and only has otitis media with no other complications, many physicians use a “wait-and-see” approach. Typically, middle ear infections resolve on their own within a couple days, and do not require the use of antibiotics. They are a fairly common childhood ailment. Most children experience 1-2 ear infections before they start school.


Natural management and treatment for childhood earaches


  • A warm water bottle or warm cloth can be applied to the affected ear. This often provides relief. Be sure that the temperature is comfortably warm and not too hot.

  • If lying down flat makes the ear pain worse, prop the child up slightly with pillows.

  • If the child has known allergies, remove allergens from their diet and environment.

  • Remove cigarette smoke from the child’s environment.

  • Have the child evaluated by a chiropractor. Certain chiropractic manipulative techniques enable the Eustachian tubes to drain properly. This decreases the amount of fluid trapped inside the middle ear and relieves pressure on the eardrum. Many children suffering from otitis media respond favorably to chiropractic treatment.

Ear examinaton
Proper Nutrition for Kids with Childhood Ear Infections

  • Follow a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables

  • Check to see if your child is sensitive to milk/dairy, cereal grains, soy, eggs, or artificial ingredients. These can trigger excessive mucus production in some children. This mucus can clog the Eustachian tubes so that the ears cannot drain properly.

The Child's Environment
  • Remove dust, smoke, and possible pollutants from the child’s environment.

  • Check toys and stuffed animals for accumulated dust.

  • Wash hands often and leave shoes by the front door so that outside substances are not tracked into the home.

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