Ear infections

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Ear infections are classified according to the part of the ear that’s affected. Middle ear infections (otitis media) are the most common type in children. Otitis externa is infection of the ear canal between the ear drum and the outer ear.


Otitis media (middle ear infection) commonly occurs after an upper respiratory tract infection or allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:

  • Earache, which may come and go for up to nine days, depending on the age of the child
  • Fever, which may last 1-2 days
  • Headache
  • Poor appetite
  • Muffled hearing or noises in the ear (e.g. humming sound)
  • Poor balance
  • Children may be restless and irritable, and may cry for several hours at a time
  • Severe or chronic middle ear infections may lead to:
    • Glue ear (also called serous otitis media) in which fluid and pus accumulate in the middle ear, sometimes for weeks or months at a time
    • Ruptured ear drum
    • Damage to other structures of the ear
  • Severe ear infections occasionally result in a permanent reduction in hearing.
  • In the majority of cases, middle ear infections resolve without the use of antibiotics, and even a ruptured ear drum usually heals without medical intervention

Swimmer’s ear is a form of otitis externa, an infection that affects the outer ear. Symptoms have a rapid onset, and may include earache (sometimes with itching or a sense of fullness or tenderness in the region), muffled hearing, and discharge from the ear.


If the Eustachian tube that connects the nose and ear becomes blocked, bacteria and mucus can become trapped in the middle ear, causing the area to become inflamed and infected.

Children are more vulnerable to otitis media than adults because their Eustachian tubes are smaller and thus more likely to become blocked. Additionally, children are more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections such as colds, which can cause congestion of the Eustachian tube, increasing the likelihood of ear infection.

Middle ear infections are common in children from the ages of 4 months to 4 years old, but in particular from 6-18 months of age.  In addition, the following factors increase children’s susceptibility:
Recent or recurrent upper respiratory tract infections (e.g. colds and flu) or allergies

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, smoke from wood-burning stoves, fumes, or air pollution
  • Attending daycare
  • Using a dummy, especially at 12 months of age and older
  • In babies, drinking from a bottle or being breast-fed while lying down
  • Having a cleft palate or Down’s syndrome
  • A family history (parents or siblings) of ear infections

As it’s name suggests, swimmer’s ear often develops after swimming in contaminated water, but may also occur any time that water becomes trapped in the ear canal, creating an environment that’s hospitable for bacteria to multiply in. This is more likely to occur if the ear canal is obstructed for some reason, too little earwax is present (which may be a consequence of spending a large amount of time in water) or the tissues of the ear are damaged.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Stop smoking. Exposing children to cigarette smoke increases their risk of acute and chronic ear infections, glue ear, and other health problems (including asthma). Furthermore, exposure to smoke interferes with children’s recovery from ear infections, making it more likely that medical intervention will be required. Smoking affects children even when they’re not present, as the residue of the smoke remains in the environment for an extended period of time, and they’ll also be in contact with it if it’s on your clothes or in your hair.
  • Optimise your child’s nutritional status with a healthy, balanced diet, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.  Avoid soft drinks, sweets and other processed foods.
  • Food allergies and intolerances are common in children with chronic otitis media, with the most commonly involved foods including cow’s milk, wheat, egg white, peanuts, soy and corn. Talk to your doctor or natural health professional about allergy testing to determine whether your child is affected. Skin prick testing, blood tests or a food elimination diet and symptom diary may all help to pinpoint the allergens. If you’re breast-feeding, you may need to remove these substances from your own diet. Note that when an allergenic food has been withdrawn from a child’s diet for some time, the allergic reaction may be stronger when that food is reintroduced into the diet. Consequently, if symptoms improve when certain foods are avoided, it may be advisable not to reintroduce that food after the elimination diet. This policy applies to children and asthmatics in particular. Talk to your healthcare professional about your personal circumstances.
  • Breastfeeding for at least three months may help protect children from ear infections, but it is unclear whether this is due to a protective effect of the breast milk, or due to the delay in the introduction of potential allergens such as cow’s milk and soy. Human milk is rich in antibodies and supports immunity, helping babies to fight off infections.
  • When breastfeeding, keep the baby in a semi-upright position, and similarly, if your baby is bottle-fed, don’t lie the baby down to feed. The action of gravity on the contents of the bottle increases the pressure on the baby's ear passages.
  • Wean your baby off a dummy by around six months of age. By twelve months, children who are still using dummies are more likely to be prone to ear infections.
  • Don’t allow the ear to get wet when you have swimmer’s ear. You may need to wear a shower cap when bathing and avoid swimming until the infection is resolved. If you do go swimming, take care to keep your head above water.
  • Don't swim in polluted water.
  • Clear the water from your ears after swimming or bathing
  • Don’t use cotton buds or other items to clear wax from your ears.
  • Don’t use soap to wash out the ears, as this can alter the pH of the canal, predisposing you to infection.

Important notes

  • Serious consequences can arise from untreated ear infections, so it’s important that you consult your healthcare professional if you or your child are displaying symptoms of infection or develop hearing problems.

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thanks for infomaton
Anonymous 19 May 2014
Hello Lucian,
I am sorry to hear you are suffering from tinnitus and you are finding you have excess wax forming in your ears. We do need a certain amount of ear wax. Firstly, it protects and moisturizes the skin of ear canal, preventing dry, itchy ears. Secondly, it contains special chemicals that fight off infections could hurt the skin inside the ear canal. Finally, it acts as a shield between the outside world and protects the eardrum. When dust, dirt, and other things enter your ear, the earwax traps them so they can't travel any further. Avoiding deep-fried foods and heated saturated fats to prevent earwax production along with limiting your intake of alcohol, dairy and sugars to prevent yeast growth. Yeast infections can make earwax backup more likely trying also to minimise your intake of caffeine, chocolate and salt.
The most common cause of tinnitus is over-exposure to loud noise. Nevertheless, there are many other things which can also cause tinnitus, which include: too much wax in the ear, ear infection, a hole in the eardrum, certain medications, high blood pressure, allergy, anaemia or interruption of the cerebral blood flow (i.e. the blood flow to the head area). Ginkgo biloba, when taken over several weeks, has been found useful in minimising the distress of tinnitus caused by impaired circulation. (Ginkgo is not suitable for use if you are taking blood thinning medication - consult your healthcare professional before use). The minerals magnesium phosphate and potassium phosphate have traditionally been indicated for this disorder and deliver good results for some people. B group vitamins and herbs that are calming to the nervous system and may be of benefit for the stress that accompanies this disorder.
Kellie (a Blackmores Naturopath)
Kellie 10 Dec 2013
I do not eat meat, I am totally VEGAN and I still get wax in my ears when I eat Sanitarium Nutmeat tins, I did not got infections on my ears and I still get Tinnitus WHY?
Anonymous 09 Dec 2013