Parents and pediatricians are noticing that ear infections in babies and children are responding well to chiropractic care, but unfortunately how chiropractic care helps ear infections is not commonly known. This article will discuss how chiropractic may help ear infections, and example cases are provided.
The Spine-Brain-Immune System Connection
The first way in which chiropractic care may help ear infections is via the spine-nervous system-immune system connections. The connections between the nervous system and immune system are well established. Chiropractic care helps stimulate the nervous system, which in turn may improve immune system function. Specifically, the brain influences the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the ANS controls the organs of the immune system. If the spine and spinal joints are stuck, out of alignment, or subluxated, there is a decrease in (mechanoreceptor) stimulation of the brain. Brain health is affected, and the brain may not be able to properly modulate the immune system. Therefore, spinal dysfunctions and subluxations may create a situation where children are more susceptible to illness and infection, including ear infections. Chiropractors are specifically trained to evaluate children to determine if spinal misalignments and subluxations exist. If they do, spinal problems and subluxations can be improved with gentle chiropractic adjustments. Also, chiropractic adjustments are modified for the age of the child. Babies receive very gentle adjustments, often not even noticed by the baby. As children grow older, more adult-like adjustments may be used.
Ear Drainage and the Eustachian Tube
The next way chiropractic care may help ear infections is by improving the function of the Eustachian tube. Drainage of the middle ear is via the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear with the throat. The opening/closing of the Eustachian tube is regulated partly by the tensor veli palatini muscle, among others. [Nerve control of these muscles comes from nerve fibers of the mandibular branch of cranial nerve V.] If these neurons are not properly modulated, the tensor veli palatini may malfunction. As a result, the Eustachian tube may be blocked, 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 nerve cells which influence the tensor veli palatini muscle (TVP) are controlled somewhat by nerve endings of the soft tissues in and around the spine, especially the upper cervical spine (neck). These nerve endings are called mechanoreceptors, and are sensitive to motion and gravity. The better the alignment of the spine, and the better it moves, the more these mechanoreceptors will stimulate the brain which will improve control of the TVP. Problems arise when the joints of the spine become stuck with reduced motion, and are out of proper alignment. When the spinal joints are stuck and out of alignment, the condition is called spinal “subluxations.” Spinal injuries which cause these subluxations are common in babies and children. A “normal” childbirth, especially with extraction aides, exposes us to our first trauma. Playing, falling, and sports add to spinal problems and subluxations. Spinal dysfunctions and subluxations decrease the activity of mechanoreceptors, which decreases stimulation of the brain (via cerebello-thalamo-cortical connections). The brain modulates all systems, including the autonomic nervous system and the muscular system. If the brain loses mechanoreceptor input from stuck, out of alignment, “subluxated” spinal joints, it loses stimulation necessary for proper control and health of the autonomic, muscular, and immune systems.
Dairy Products and other Food Sensitivities
Dairy products are a major cause of ear infections, and many doctors and researchers agree. In my extensive experience, I have seen many children and adults who suffer from frequent illness improve when they eliminate diary products. If you are serious about improving and preventing ear infections, asthma, allergies, digestive and skin problems, try removing dairy products from your diet or your child’s diet for a month. You may find eliminating dairy products helps immensely.
How Chiropractic may help
The focus of chiropractic care is to locate and correct spinal dysfunctions and subluxations. Using gentle, specific techniques, chiropractic adjustments help restore normal joint motion and alignment and reduce subluxations, which increase mechanoreceptor stimulation of the brain. This leads to healthier output of the brain, which may improve immune response and muscle control of the Eustachian tube. Even if the baby or child shows no signs of spinal pain, the joint dysfunctions and subluxations may still be present.
Antibiotics and Tubes
Antibiotics are less effective and are under increasing medical criticism as a viable treatment for ear infections. Children given antibiotics have an increased chance of having future infections. Tympanostomy (tubes) is also extremely controversial, with inherent risks. Parents and pediatricians should entertain other conservative treatments for ear infections to reduce and avoid antibiotic usage and tympanostomy, if possible. Because the function of the cerebral cortex is under the direct influence of the nerve sensors in the spinal joints and surrounding soft tissues, and spinal joint dysfunctions/subluxations can occur at an early age, it is imperative to address spinal problems early in life to help babies and children with ear infections, ADD, AD/HD, learning and behavior disabilities, and asthma.
Breastfeeding vs. Bottle
Dr. Brian Palmer, DDS, of Kansas City, MO, writes that during breastfeeding proper tongue action and position is developed, helping reduce pressure and closure of the Eustachian tubes. During bottle feeding, the tongue is forced back and elevated, which can block the Eustachian tubes. The unnatural forces of bottle feeding can impact the position of the teeth and the shape of the palate. Dr. Palmer also mentioned never to bottle feed infants when they are on their back. If you are bottle feeding, try to position the baby similar to the breastfeeding position.
Please feel free to pass this information along to your medical physicians, pediatricians, family and friends.
Some of Dr Fuller’s Ear Infection Success Stories
Updated November 2007 (originally written March 1998)