Ear infections and glue ear in children

Ear infections


Ear infections are common in infants and children.

Many parents turn to natural medicine to help their children with ear infections and glue ear. In one study, it was found that nearly half of the children aged 1-7 years old had used Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for recurrent ear infections during the previous six month period (1).

Western medicine says children are prone to ear infections due to their anatomy (a straighter Eustachian tube linking the nose and throat to the ears), exposure to irritants like passive smoke and frequent upper respiratory infections, especially for children who go to day care. There may be other factors that make some children more likely to have ear infections than others.

Chinese medicine explains ear infections by talking about the unique environment of the child’s body.


The challenge faced by all infants

All infants and young children have vulnerable digestive systems.

A baby needs to double its birth weight in the first six months of life. All a baby can “eat” in this time is milk. The digestive system must work hard to assimilate and transform the milk to send nutrients and energy (Qi or “chi”) to all parts of the growing baby’s body.

It’s easy for the digestive system to become overloaded.

When the digestive system isn’t transforming nutrients on time, there’s a build-up. A backlog. Like an engine that isn’t firing cleanly in its cylinders, gunk can build up instead of being used right away as fuel.

Gunk can linger in certain body areas. Gunk loves to linger in the throat, nose, lungs, tummy and ear.

This gunk creates stickiness, and this stickiness slows down energy flow.

Energy needs to flow to all parts of the body at all times to defend against outside influences. When the energy isn’t flowing to the ear at the time that it’s needed, then the outside world can impact the ear.


The focus of Chinese medicine

So in Chinese medicine, we do have an idea of “germs” or pathogens causing disease. But we focus much more on the “host” than on the “germs”.

We focus our attention on the health of the child. We work to make the child stronger, so that they can resist disease in the future.

We help the body to learn, or to remember, how to defend against disease.

Helping a child to overcome an acute ear infection revolves around:

  • helping them to feel comfortable and relieving pain
  • resolving stickiness that leads to faster recovery and less discomfort
  • stimulating the body to heal itself


About inflammation

In Western medicine, “inflammation” is often thought of as a bad thing. However, this view is beginning to change. Scholars are now considering that inflammation is part of the immune response, and therefore it must serve a good purpose.

In Chinese medicine, we say the redness and warmth are called “Heat”.

The body is sending a lot of energy to the area. It is trying to send its intelligence there to fight off the outside influence and to help that body part to recover, to feel good and to function properly.

But the energy is not getting through. There’s a blockage.

What is the blockage? The gunk!

So there’s “Heat” – redness, swelling, warmth and pain – because the body is smart. It knows energy is needed there, and it keeps sending more. It’s just that the gunk isn’t letting it through.

So we want to direct this energy towards healing, to show it the way. We want to lead the energy to where it’s needed.

We use acupuncture, massage, heat therapy, herbal drops, diet therapy, herbal medicine and other tools to shift the gunk and let the intelligence-energy flow to the ear so the body can heal itself.


Long-term prevention

Antibiotics are a modern marvel and they save lives when used appropriately. The downside of antibiotics for ear infections, from a Chinese medicine perspective, is that they tend to be great at clearing “Heat” but do nothing to shift gunk. (And in fact, because they upset the delicate balance of the gut flora, it’s possible that they challenge the digestive system and there is more gunk created as a result.)

When making a decision for your own health or for your child’s health, you need to get all the information and weigh up the risks and benefits. Sometimes a decision is imperfect because there may be side effects, but it can still be the best decision for the circumstances.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, keeping the child free from recurrent ear infections requires a longer-term view. It’s about ensuring that more gunk doesn’t get created. It’s also about looking for other ways that the energy may be not flowing smoothly, and helping it to be smooth again.

This may involve acupuncture treatments, diet changes, use of heat on acupoints at home, self-massage, Chinese herbal medicine or other natural interventions.

It’s a good idea to include your child’s doctor so that they know what you are doing and so that you have a team of people around your family, helping you to become healthy and stay healthy.


Watching and waiting

For simple ear infections, the recommended strategy in Western medicine is to “watch and wait” for a couple of days. Doctors are urged to reduce antibiotic use – firstly to avoid bugs becoming resistant in the whole population, but also because antibiotics can harm the delicate gut flora and may create longer-term problems.

If you can step in with natural care during the “watch and wait” period, it’s a great way to be proactive and to give your child’s body a chance to learn how to heal.



If you’d like to know how I can help you with your child’s health issues, please feel free to book a 15-minute Free Consultation where we can discuss their history and I can share with you the strategies I would recommend for you.




(1) Levi JR, Brody RM, McKee-Cole K, Pribitkin E, O’Reilly R. Complementary and alternative medicine for pediatric otitis media. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. 2013;77(6):926-931. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2013.03.009
(2) Marom T, Marchisio P, Tamir SO, Torretta S, Gavriel H, Esposito S. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatment Options for Otitis Media. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016;95(6). doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000002695