Friday, April 24, 2009

Allergies and Ear Infections in Children

Since this topic came up recently with a friend of mine, I thought I would give my experience here as well.

When my daughter, Ivy, was between the ages of one and two years old, she had chronic ear infections. Sometimes I would be oblivious of the fact, since she has a high pain tolerance, and the doc would diagnose her when we were at the office for another reason.

Mind you, this was occurring before I became aware of how many allergies I actually had.

Anyhow, they persisted even through FIVE rounds of antibiotics, starting with the usual Amoxicyllin and working up to the Augmentin. Once we got to the Augmentin(twice), the family doc finally gave up and referred us to an ENT.

The ENT had Ivy's hearing tested, and she was indeed having some difficulty hearing everything. Not enough to be overly worried about, but enough to keep a close eye on.
We then had the ENT actually look in Ivy's ears, and sure enough he could tell she had obviously been going through a LOT of trauma due to the infections. He recommended putting tubes in her ears ASAP but could tell that I wasn't too hip on that idea if there was another option. I asked him about food allergies and his opinion on them in relation to chronic, persistent ear infections. He responded that he had actually seen a case in which the child was allergic to milk and had chronic ear infections and when the milk was taken out of his diet the infections went away. He was a bit skeptical at that point, as the ear infections came back a few months later, but his skepticism vanished when the mother figured out that the child was getting cheese at daycare(the daycare provider had figured that "a little wouldn't hurt"). Once the dairy(cheese) was eliminated from the diet, the chronic ear infections again went away.

The ENT suggested I go off of dairy myself(I was still nursing her at that time) and take Ivy off of all dairy. We did this, and at the next month's checkup, her ears were healed and her hearing was back to normal! The ENT and I were both thrilled with these results, and we obviously didn't get the tubes put in. Ivy and I both continued to be dairy-free until around June of the following year(about 6-7 months).

Once Ivy's ears were healed, I did use xylitol for Ivy as was used in this study. I used the powdered form purchased from the health food store, and figured out the proper dosage. I fed it to her from a spoon. Even now I give her gum with xylitol if she is fighting a cold(as that is what usually precedes the infections). I also gave her Sambucol to help boost her immune system if she seemed to be fighting something. If I was fortunate to find it, I gave her the Sambucol with Echinacea for 3 weeks, then the regular for a week, then rotated back to the Sambucol with Echinacea. You don't want to take Echinacea continually, because it loses its immune boosting power if you do.

Since that year(2007), Ivy has only had one ear infection(a year ago last April). She does get dairy now, but I cut way back if she is fighting a cold or other illness. I don't push the milk; she gets maybe a cup a day, if that. We do have kefir, yogurt and cheese, but not everyday.

I had suspected milk allergy in my second son, Hunter, as he also had a lot of ear infections as a toddler. I didn't have the knowledge of allergies behind me, though, to figure it out and help him better. I wish I had, and had been able to keep him from going through those painful times!

At the next visit to our family doctor, I reported our experience with the ENT and the success of avoiding the tubes simply through avoiding dairy in our diets. She replied, saying most people would rather just get the tubes than have to worry about what their kids are eating all the time. Wow. People would rather put their kids through (unneccessary, in the case of allergies) minor surgery(that carries risks) and antibiotics that further compromise the immune system just for their own convenience? Talk about treating the symptoms of the illness rather than dealing with the underlying problem! I am betting that those who ignore(or are ignorant of) the allergies will have it creep up later in life. An ignored problem doesn't always go away; it often has a habit of showing up somewhere later on...often more serious and harder to deal with.

As a sidenote--I think there is a correlation to my kids' ear infections and to the introduction of milk products at 1yo. I was still nursing when my kids were that age, so I didn't give them plain milk, but they were getting other milk products at that time, and that's when the ear infection problems started. So, that said, if you have allergy issues in your family, I'd recommend waiting way past the 1 year mark to introduce dairy products, as milk is the most common allergen in babies and children.


Alana said...

I just came across your blog post through a Google search and am really intrigued. While my son does not have chronic ear infections, he has had 3 (diagnosed) in the last year or so. I've always suspected dairy allergies because he also has eczema, but his ped refuses to address my concerns or refer to an allergist. After reading your article, I'm wondering if dairy is the culprit in the infections also. He has had recurring fevers every 2-3 weeks as well--in fact, this past week he had a slight fever and has had a runny nose after giving him string cheese. He doesn't drink milk (we drink soy milk) but does eat some dairy. Sorry to drone on, I hope that you can e-mail me with any suggestions for us--I'd love to have an ENT look at him as well.

Tanya said...

Alana-I am unable to email you unless you enable access to your Profile.'s hoping you read this. :)
The best way to see if it is indeed dairy allergy is to go completely off of all dairy. For at least 3 weeks, as from what I have read, dairy stays in the body for at least 2 weeks.
If it's dairy he is allergic to, you should notice a difference during the elimination period. Once he has had a week or two of no allergic symptoms, then you can reintroduce dairy and watch for allergic symptoms. Depending on whether his symptoms are IgE or IgG related, the symptoms can occur immediately or take up to a week to show themselves.
Other than obvious dairy to avoid(milk, cheese, yogurt, etc), read ALL labels and avoid casein, whey, lactose and caramel color. There may be other derivatives I am forgetting, but since milk is one of the top 8 allergens, it is usually labeled as containing Milk.
If you are breastfeeding, then you will have to avoid dairy as well.

For what it's worth, the worst offenders for my kids were/are a simple glass of milk, and ice cream. They seemed to do far better with things such as yogurt, cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese. But I know that this varies with the person--your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your blog posting!! My daughter is 3, and we were on the verge of scheduling her 2nd set of tubes and maybe having her adenoids taken out. A acquaintance mentioned something about a connection between ear infections and milk allergies, so I googled the topic and your blog came up. In addition to your blog, there is substantial medical studies done to confirm this link. However, no doctor or ENT has ever suggested this to us. I'm taking my daughter off of dairy starting today to see if we can avoid another surgery. She lives on 3 huge glasses of milk a day plus LOTS of yogurt and cheese, so this is going to be a challenge. However, I feel strongly that this may be the problem. Did you use soy milk or goat's milk? Do you or anyone else know what types of products a parent can use as substitutes?

Thank you for your detailed description of how you helped your daughter!! It's giving me some hope!

Tanya said...

I am glad you find my experiences and information helpful. :)
It's too bad that doctors don't seem to take allergies into account when babies/toddlers present with ear infections, especially chronic ear infections. I think is it like my old family doc said--parents would rather just do the antibiotics/tubes and not worry about the every day consumption of certain foods. :-/ Which is sad, because allergies, when not addressed, have great potential to cause greater health problems down the road.

I did use a lot of soy products, but after what I have learned about soy(one major thing being that most of it is genetically modified)(and the soy allergy I found I had), I personally don't recommend consuming it on a regular basis. In my opinion, I would suggest an ENRICHED Rice milk, Oat milk, or if there are no suspected tree nut allergies, almond milk.

Just from the fact that your dd drinks so much milk and consumes so many dairy products(don't worry-no judging from me-I've been there too! ;)) tells me that the likelihood is great that it IS an allergy: we are often addicted to/absolutely love what bothers us most.

I hope you are able to have success and relief from the ear infections soon!

Once you take out the main milk products, you should probably read all labels and avoid the derivatives as well. At least until the ears have had a chance to heal up.

I would also recommend a daily dairy-free probiotic. DDS JUNIOR offers a dairy-free one that you can get at health food stores or order online. This should help the immune system to rebuild itself and function better.

Hope that helps!