EAR INFECTIONS: CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS More and more parents and pediatricians are noticing that ear infections in babies and children are responding well to chiropractic care, but unfortunately the benefits of chiropractic care on ear infections are not commonly known, nor are the mechanisms of benefit. Ear infections are all too common, and parents often report that antibiotics do not seem to be slow the recurrence of infections. There are possible serious side effects to antibiotics which need to be understood and considered (not the topic of this article). I believe many ear infections may be successfully treated (and prevented) conservatively with chiropractic care and immediate dietary changes, which is the focus of this article. In my opinion, the main benefit that chiropractic care offers anyone, including children suffering from ear infections, is increased nerve receptor stimulation of the spinal cord, cerebellum, thalamus, and brain. This increased brain activation may lead to an improved immune response via more appropriate regulation of the sympathetic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system, regulated by a brain center called the hypothalamus, controls the organs and tissues of the immune system. Modulating effects on the hypothalamus comes from the cortex and thalamus. Dysfunction of spinal joints may lead to a decreased firing of neurons of the cerebello- thalamo-cortical pathways. This could adversely affect the hypothalamus, leading to a decrease in the immune response of a child, making them more susceptible to illness and infection, including ear infections. Many people question the existence of spinal problems, dysfunctions, and subluxations in babies. They wonder where they could have come from. I remind people with sick kids looking for answers that childbirth, even “normal” births, could be very traumatic on such a delicate spine. Obviously more complicated deliveries, such as c-sections or those requiring extraction aids, could result in spinal trauma during birth. Spinal dysfunctions and subluxations can occur at this time, and can be even caused by intra-uterine positions during pregnancy. How about when children are learning to walk? They fall several times a day. In addition, the cervical spine’s soft tissues, including the discs, facet joints and other spinal soft tissues, have the highest concentration of receptors than any other body region. These receptors are sensitive to motion and gravity, so if spinal dysfunctions and subluxations exist, a baby may be lacking the most important “power source” to drive and develop the cerebello-thalamo-cortical-hypothalamo- sympathetic-immune organs pathway (thanks to Dr. Dan Murphy, DC, for my awareness of these neurological connections over the course of 16 years of study). There is another possible mechanism of how chiropractic treatments and adjustments may help babies and children with ear infections. Drainage of the middle ear is via the eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear with the throat. The opening and closing of the eustachian tube is regulated partly by the tensor veli palatini muscle. The neurological control dictating contraction and relaxation of this muscle is from neurons in the trigeminal motor nucleus, and these fibers follow the pathway of the mandibular branch of cranial nerve V, the trigeminal nerve. It is possible that if the neurons that control the tensor veli palatini muscle are dysfunctional, the muscle may have inappropriate tone. The inappropriate tone regulation of the tensor veli palatini muscle may affect the opening of the eustachian tube, not allowing proper drainage of the middle ear. Fluid backs up, inflammation results, and the fluid may become infected, resulting in an ear infection. The dysfunction of the neurons of the trigeminal motor nucleus could result from a similar mechanism as described above. Spinal trauma during and after childbirth may result in spinal dysfunctions and subluxations. These dysfunctions may lead to a decrease in the firing of tissue nerve endings (mechanoreceptors and muscle spindles), especially of the upper cervical spine (neck). The spinal joint dysfunctions (subluxations) may decrease the frequency of firing of nerve cells in the cerebello-thalamo-cortical pathways. This mechanism could be responsible for a loss of the modulation of the trigeminal motor nucleus neurons, which could lead to inappropriate tone regulation of the tensor veli palatini muscle, closing off the Eustachian tube. This next recommendation is critical for health of children overall, and to try to help decrease the return of ear infections. Dairy products are a major cause of ear infections. Many doctors and researchers are in agreement with this fact. If you are serious about treating and preventing ear infections (and asthma, allergies, skin problems, colic, ADD and AD/HD), then significant reduction or removal of dairy products from the diet is essential. This includes milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, cream, ice cream, and butter. Please remember that a significant reduction may not be enough to see healthy changes in your child. I recommend complete removal of all dairy products for at least a month to give the body a chance to heal (under the watchful eye of a health care professional knowledgeable in such issues). Look elsewhere on my website for testimonials regarding improvements in health after removal of dairy products. The job of a chiropractor and a chiropractic neurologist is to locate and correct spinal joint dysfunctions and subluxations if they exist. Using gentle, specific techniques, the chiropractic adjustment will restore normal joint mobility and biomechanics, which will increase the stimulation of receptors to fire neurons of the cerebello-thalamo-cortical pathways. This leads to a healthier output by the cortex, hypothalamus, and trigeminal motor nucleus, which may improve immune response and improve muscle tone regulation. Even if the child shows no signs of spinal pain, the joint dysfunctions can still be present. I frequently use a hand held, high velocity, low amplitude instrument to adjust babies, and they often don’t even feel or know that the adjustment has been performed. The treatments are extremely gentle, safe, and may be very effective. Many parents and doctors have found antibiotics are becoming less effective and are under increasing criticism as a viable treatment for ear infections. Research has suggested that children given antibiotics have an increased chance of having future infections. Tympanostomy (tubes) is also extremely controversial, with inherent risks. In my opinion, parents and pediatricians should consider exhausting all conservative treatments for ear infections before using antibiotics and tympanostomy. Because the function of the cerebral cortex is under the influence of the nerve sensors in the spinal joints and surrounding soft tissues, and spinal joint dysfunctions and subluxations can occur at an early age, it is imperative to address spinal problems to help babies and children with ear infections, asthma, allergies, ADD, AD/HD, colic, and other health issues. Please pass this information along to your medical physicians, pediatricians, family and friends. Originally written March 1998, updated June 2004 NOTE: Dr. Fuller is a chiropractic neurologist and is certified in spinal trauma. His post-graduate education in neurology, spinal biophysics, spinal trauma and nutrition has helped him understand the complex nervous system as it relates to spinal dysfunction and subluxations. This has enabled him to develop treatments that may help babies and children with health, behavior, and attention issues.