Crazy ear infection treatments that just might work?
August 4, 2006 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I've had recurring ear infections for almost a year now, and it's driving me nuts. My doctor is now saying that there aren't a lot of options left, and while I'm looking for a second (third, fourth, fifth) opinion, I'm tempted to try her latest oddball suggestion.

We've done antibiotics, in oral and ear drop form, we've done surgery, and we're about to try a powdered form of antibiotic that the doc says is a last-ditch effort (and will most likely not work). She's told me (after much pressuring to provide more options) that some people recommend exclusion diets - eliminating wheat, dairy, corn, and so on - as a method of treatment, but that this has never been supported by anything other than anecdotal evidence.

I haven't been able to find any reputable information about this - I know it's not a standard treatment, but I'd hoped to at least find a source without LOTS OF CAPS, accusations of oppression by "the 'so-called' mainstream medical community, a.k.a., thieves" and typos galore. My desperation can only do so much to surpress the skeptic within me. Does anyone have any experience with an ear infection-related exclusion diet? General suggestions for figuring out how the heck I eliminate these foods from my diet without starving myself?
posted by spaceman_spiff to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
Talk with a dietician (RD) about how to eliminate the foods while still maintaining a balanced diet.
I would wait for the other opinions before I try a diet that has not been proven to treat the condition.
(Did you get a second opinion before the surgery?)
posted by FergieBelle at 4:21 PM on August 4, 2006

It's possible that you have a slight allergy to one or more of these foods and the reaction is suppressing your immune system just enough to let opportunistic bacteria pounce.

BTW IANAD YMMV - One way to bolster your immune system is to use Vitamin C. Here's a paper written by Dr Robert Cathcart,

Sorry, my prehistoric computer won't let me do the link thingie.

Information on elimination diets can be found in books about allergies or in a website like this:
posted by Soda-Da at 4:23 PM on August 4, 2006

I know it is not evidence, just more anecdotes, but I know many people who say their children's ear infections were cured by cutting out dairy. I actually thought the dairy->ear infection connection was an established fact already (it is a fact that babies who get cow's milk formula have much more ear infections than babies who are breastfed).

The World's Healthiest Foods may still be too alternative for you, but it is not all caps and has some information about this here: Recurrent Otitis Media. They also show some research to back up the claims.
posted by davar at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2006

FergieBelle: 4 different docs in 2 different practices. And you're right, I will wait to try the other option first, but I'm not going to start this thing overnight, so I might as well gather info now.

Davar: that's actually exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. Alternative I can accept; obviously nuts was what I was finding. Thanks.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:35 PM on August 4, 2006

I went through something similar a couple of years ago, though it sounds like your case is more severe.

My doctor suggested that it was related to an overabundance of mucus flowing through my sinuses (I was sneezy and nose-blowy, especially in the morning). The strategy was to beat back the infection with anti-biotics, then try to keep the mucus under control. I can't remember the anti-biotic he prescribed, but I do remember the decongestant -- Flonase and later, its generic cousin. Did the job.

I'm off the decongestant, now, mostly, unless I feel like I'm getting too mucusy.

Good luck with it.
posted by notyou at 5:31 PM on August 4, 2006

I used to have recurrent ear infections, particularly in the summer. A few year back I started gently q-tipping my ear with hydrogen peroxide once in a while. Haven't had one since.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:56 PM on August 4, 2006

Pubmed study on the role of food allergy in otitis media. Actually, here's a page of study abstracts on how diet might effect chronic OM.
posted by neda at 6:50 PM on August 4, 2006

Heh. I read your initial header on the main page and my immediate thought was that you were allergic to wheat or dairy.

I say this for two reasons. The first is that I am allergic to wheat and used to have a series of problems that disappeared when I stopped eating wheat. I used to fall asleep right after meals, I felt bloated all the time and mucusy/partially sick. The same is true for my fiancee but her problem was with milk.

About 6 months ago we both went to a nateopath and were diagnosed. We cut those foods out of our diet, switched to alternatives and we feel much better.

The second reason is that our dog used to get very bad ear infections. We changed her food to something without wheat, milk and corn. Her ear infections cleared up after a couple of weeks. I'm not saying that canine anatomy is exactly the same as human anatomy but it is similar.

Funny thing is that I can tollerate wheat once in a while. I have not spent the time to look up exact scientific proof to back up my theory but this is how I believe it works. Your body can only produce so many enzymes to digest your food. As you get older you start to lose the ability to produce certain enzymes. The enzymes to digest milk is one of them. It is a proven fact that as people age they cannot digest milk (it makes sense since we are no longer feeding from our mothers).

Back on topic. I believe I can tollerate wheat once in a while because my body has had time to create and store up the enzymes that will be able to digest wheat.

Sorry, for the rambling but I hope it helps.

You could cut out wheat and milk for a few weeks to see if it helps you out. Who knows, it may work.
posted by cbushko at 7:33 PM on August 4, 2006

(it is a fact that babies who get cow's milk formula have much more ear infections than babies who are breastfed)

Yes, but that's not because cow's milk or its derivatives cause ear infections. Breastfed babies have fewer infections of any sort because breast milk contains antibodies that protect the infant against common illnesses.

That said: if there's anecdotal evidence that says exclusion diets have worked for others and you're willing to try it, why not go for it?

As for the ease of integrating these new diets into your life, I'd say start with eliminating dairy, because that's a lot easier than eliminating wheat. There are lots of soy-based products designed to replace dairy in people's lives (I'm totally addicted to WholeSoy's key lime soy yogurt); wheat is a lot harder to avoid. If you want to be very thorough, read the ingredients list on foods very carefully to avoid whey and casein, both of which are proteins derived from milk. Avoiding those two will significantly diminish the variety of foods you'll be able to eat, so if you're having some success with non-dairy diets, you could always try to add those two things back slowly to see if you can tolerate them.

If a dairy-free diet doesn't help and you decide to try to eliminate wheat, resources for people with celiac disease will help you learn which foods to avoid. They avoid gluten, which is found in more things than wheat, but it'll be a good starting point for you.

Good luck!
posted by jesourie at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2006

I note that you don't comment on how the infection(s) start - is it worth me mentioning that you should try and keep water out of your ear and so on or is that too obvious?

Over-eagerness with shaving foam can cause problems too, if it gets in the canal, and any shampoo products as well will not help - the powdered ABs' are only going to be of any use if your infection is open to air; if it's surface irritated, they won;t be much use.

We live near a river, and swim frequently in it - but, for some reason, two of the three of us both got ear ache at the same time when the other did not; the docs suggestion here was that it was due to being inclined to sensitivity and to leave it alone and under no circumstances to allow moisture to get in... which, eventually, has allowed our respective ears to get better.

IANAD - Taking anti-inflammatories might offer some relief?
posted by DrtyBlvd at 3:18 AM on August 6, 2006

DrtyBlvd: thread's probably dead by now, but yeah, I'm careful with my ears. I have permanent ruptures in both ear drums, so I don't shower or swim (although I tend not to swim much now - too much risk of another infection) or whatnot without custom plugs. One of the speculations is that my hearing aids are keeping the ear from ventilating "enough", but there's not a lot of solutions for that.

It definitely is an infection - I've had it cultured more than once, and I get these often enough that I can tell the difference between an infection and an irritation (smell, feeling, etc).
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:57 PM on August 8, 2006

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