Star foods for ear infections: beetroot, blueberry, cantaloupe melon, carrot, celery, chicken, chilli, Garlic, ginger, grapefruit, guava, horseradish, kiwi fruit, lemon, lime, mango, onion, orange, parsley, pumpkin, shiitake mushroom, sweet potato, tofu
Ear infections are very common in childhood and are most prevalent between the ages of six months and three years. Children in this age group are more likely to develop ear infections because the part of the ear known as the Eustachian tube, which links the ear with the nose and throat, lies more horizontally in them than it does in older children. This causes drainage problems when fluid collects, encouraging the growth of bacteria. As children grow older, the Eustachian tube develops a curve that makes drainage much easier and lowers the risk of ear infections.
The symptoms of an ear infection are earache, a fever and a feeling of pressure in the ear. The pressure is caused by the build-up of fluid pushing against the ear drum. Babies with ear infections are often distressed and pull at the affected ear, which can turn bright red externally. Ear infections may occur during or after a cold or other respiratory illness.
Chronic ear infections can lead to permanent hearing damage, although this is not common. Always seek medical advice for an ear infection as, left untreated, it can cause perforation of the ear drum. Recurrent ear infections can result in glue ear. This is caused by a build-up of thick, sticky mucus behind the ear drum causing temporary, partial deafness. Ear infections are conventionally treated with antibiotics. However, repeated use of antibiotics brings its own problems and recent studies have found that children routinely treated with these drugs were far more likely to get recurrent ear infections than those who managed to avoid using them. For parents, the decision of whether or not to give a child antibiotics can be hard and one of the roles of nutrition in addressing childhood illness is to help avert the need for such a dilemma.
Medicinal foods for ear infections
Avoid smoking around a baby or young child. There is a direct link between smoky environments and ear infections in children.
In 80 per cent of children tested in one study, recurrent ear infections cleared up once smoke was eliminated from their environment.
If your child does show the symptoms of an ear infection, act fast. Make some ear drops by crushing a clove of garlic and covering it with 1¼2 cup (115 ml/4 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and leave for 15 minutes. After this time, take a teaspoon of the oil (not containing any of the garlic pieces) and gently heat over a low flame. Allow it to cool slightly and then transfer to a dropper (available from chemists). Lay your child on her side and place one or two drops of warm, not hot, oil into the ear. This can soothe any pain and garlic, which is antibacterial, can help to heal the infection.
Children with recurrent ear infections should be tested for food allergies as these have been implicated as an underlying cause of infection in some cases. Dairy products are the most common culprit. Other possibilities are wheat, corn, egg, peanuts, peanut butter and citrus fruits. If your child has an ear infection they should avoid dairy products anyway because these thicken and increase mucus, making it more difficult for an infected ear to drain. This includes milk, cream, ice cream, cheese and yoghurt. Replace these foods with other sources of calcium, minerals and protein - such as nuts and seeds, beans, fortified rice drinks and soya products, molasses and green leafy vegetables. Other foods that increase mucus include egg, red meat, fried foods and those containing sugar or salt.
Foods that help to break down mucus include citrus fruits, garlic, onion, celery, parsley, chicken broth, chilli, watercress, horseradish and green tea. Offer your child a hot toddy of lemon and honey and prepare an immune-boosting chicken broth to aid the healing process. Make fresh juices from antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, such as orange, mango, papaya, cantaloupe melon, kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, blueberries and carrot to help your child fight the infection.
If your child has to take antibiotics, wait until the course has finished and then offer live yoghurt every day for a month to replace the friendly bacteria eliminated from her gut. For children with a dairy allergy, you can buy dairy-free probiotic powders from health food shops, which can be added to drinks or dairy-free yoghurts.
Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.