What are the steps in thinking about diet and chronic ear infections?
The first is that chronic ear infections are known to have an adverse effect on hearing. Then this has an adverse effect on language development, and because hearing is decreased behaviour problems can arise. Preventing these problems is important.
The second idea is to think about what is known about causes or reasons for chronic ear infections?
Chronic ear infections are more likely to occur:-
- where infections are increased generally eg in poorly nourished or poorly cared for children. I am not discussing this in this article.
- where families have an increased tendency to have chronic ear infections. Some families, especially those with family members who have allergic symptoms have this increased tendency. This article deals with this group of children with chronic ear infections.
Where does dietary investigation fit into this?
Here I will share two stories of my work in investigating the role of diet in various symptoms. This has been a long process looking at various aspects of diet over the last 35 years.
The first one is of a mother who had begun an elimination diet for her son’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She reported that since beginning the diet his ADHD problems had not decreased greatly but she was very pleased to report that his ear infections has stopped. Later other mothers reported this too. These mothers were using an additive free, low natural chemicals diet.
The second story was of babies who had been milk sensitive in infancy. Their parents had excluded milk and the baby’s diarrhoea or other symptoms had decreased. When the babies were over 12 months they had gradually reintroduced various dairy foods and had had no return of the distressing symptoms they had had earlier. Often these babies had developed chronic ear infections in their second year. I taught them to exclude additives, natural chemicals and dairy foods as well. They reported that they did not get ear infections the next winter.
As the diet therapy developed I learnt more about gradually expanding the diet and how to reintroduce dairy foods in such a way that they would be best tolerated. [This includes beginning with cooked mild cheese eg on toast, later trialing milk that has been boiled, and trialing milk and yoghurt last.] The idea worked well with mothers reporting that the children were tolerating cheese and ice-cream made with evaporated milk and so on.
However many reported a return of the ear infections when the weather got cooler, after Easter, through winter and spring. I gradually learnt which were the most risky months for each family from the family sensitivity history of the family allergic symptoms. Many had family members whose asthma, chronic tonsillitis, or hay fever was worse late autumn, winter or spring. What I found was that most could relax their diet in the summer months [from Christmas to Easter] and then they became more strict in the cooler months.
To summarise what I was finding: there are a group of children who are susceptible to chronic ear infections who benefit from a diet low in additives, suspect natural chemicals, as well as suspect allergy foods [usually dairy]. As they recover they gradually relax the diet as their tolerance improves. But seasons are another factor to incorporate in the management of diet. These are the main ideas to consider here. In fact there are other factors that contribute to what I call “the total body load” of suspect substances. See my book “Are You Food sensitive?” for the detail of dietary investigation https://foodintolerancepro.com/food-sensitivity-advice/
Who are most likely to benefit from dietary intervention? Those with an atopic family history. That is those families whose various members, grandparents down to grandchildren, have or had allergic-type symptoms. These include hay fever, eczema, rashes, diarrhoea, asthma and other symptoms that include chronic headaches, migraine or irritable bowel syndrome.
Dietary investigation is worth considering in children with chronic ear infections if they come from allergic families. Like other therapies diet therapy is best managed with the help of a dietitian as there is much to manage. It is important that the initial diet excludes all suspect additives and natural chemicals as well as suspect allergy foods for that family, but it is also equally important that the diet should be gradually relaxed after challenges so that the child benefits.
Joan Breakey Dietitian specialising in food intolerance.