As parents become aware of the many benefits of chiropractic for children and newborns, we have seen more and more coming into the office for care. While many come symptom-free with the intention of optimizing their health, some enter with evidence of long standing subluxation even at such a young age.
There is a common pattern I see when the child is experiencing significant health and neurological challenges at this point in their life. The story usually goes something like this:
“Well doc, at first she seemed very healthy, but then started having ear infections. They happened pretty often but always went away with antibiotics. Eventually they became less frequent, but at that time her allergies started getting bad and she had frequent sinus/upper respiratory infections. The allergies aren’t bad as long as she takes her medication, and if she gets antibiotics right away, the sinus infections aren’t usually mild. She was also recently diagnosed with asthma and she uses an inhaler when it acts up…”
While this narrative is common to hear, there are always unique twists and turns. Maybe they had tubes put in the ears and adenoids removed. Maybe the tonsils were removed. Maybe a neurodevelopmental delay was diagnosed. Often, there was a period where they were colicky as a baby. Also, it is very common that these kids were born with an undiagnosed birth trauma.
What does birth have to do with it?
Today’s birth process shares very little in common with how children were brought into the world throughout history. What was historically been viewed as a right-of-passage for women and a joyous blessing has gradually become a medical condition. As such, it has become heavily monitored. When anything doesn’t fall into what medicine has deemed as normal, then an intervention is recommended and sometimes demanded. While these interventions may be necessary, they often are not.
While the list of possible pregnancy, labor, and delivery interventions is ever growing, the types that have the greatest impact on our topic today are those related to the delivery itself, specifically things like caesarian section, forceps and vacuum extraction, and induced labor.
The problem that is created with these interventions is that is can and likely will cause vertebral subluxation of the upper cervical spine. Vertebral subluxation is the misalignment of a single or group of spinal bones that, when present, has many deleterious effects. They include a fixation of the normal movement that would be present with a properly aligned joint; a shift in the normal weight bearing characteristics of the involved joints as well as those affected through various compensations which can produce arthritis and other degenerative effects when left uncorrected; abnormal strain on ligaments, muscles, and other nearby structures; and, most importantly, interference in the normal nerve transmission of the neural structures that share the same space.
*Another note not discussed in this article is the fact that C-sections circumvent the natural birth route which is also where the baby receives its colonization of healthy bacteria to populate the digestive tract, without which the baby is at risk for a number of health challenges. While some C-sections are necessary, many can be avoided.
How does this affect ear infections?
The aforementioned effects of upper cervical (neck) subluxations can manifest as recurring ear infections due to several pathways.
First, due to the close proximity of the joints of the upper neck and other structures like lymphatic ducts, Eustachian tubes, the temporomandibular joints, sinus cavities, and others, misalignments have the distinct potential to disrupt drainage as well as create nerve-induced inflammation in the area which may lead to unhealthy pressure changes in the middle ear.
A study done looking into the effects of upper neck misalignment as a cause of Meniere’s disease says this:
“Irritation of facet joints [posterior spinal joints] can first lead to an activated anterior cervical sympathetic system [nerve irritation] via an independent pathway in the mediolateral cell column; it can simultaneously lead to an axon reflex involving nociceptive neurons, resulting in neurogenic inflammation and the prospect of a eustachian tube dysfunction. The eustachian tube dysfunction is responsible for a disturbed middle ear-inner ear pressure relationship…”
Int Tinnitus J. 2007;13(2):132-7.
The other avenue with which upper neck subluxations can create an increased opportunity for ear infections is that the effectiveness of the immune system is often diminished by subluxation. Structures like tonsils, adenoids, lymphatic ducts, and glands all play a very important role in the function of the immune system and are all controlled and coordinated by neural tissue located in the upper neck. Subluxations in this region interfere with proper communication and function thus reducing immune effectiveness and lower the body’s defenses to resist infections.
Antibiotics: First Defense or Last Resort?
When an infection does occur, whether in the ear, sinuses, or upper respiratory tract, it is common for many people to run quickly to their pediatrician or walk-in clinic for antibiotics. The fact is that ear infections account for 30 million doctor’s office visits each year in the US, making it the number one reason for a child visiting a doctor. Whether this is your first instinct or not, the common practice of antibiotics first should be scrutinized more closely.
Despite many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, calling for doctors to wait before prescribing antibiotics, it is still being routinely overused causing many problems. One such problem being the development of drug resistant bacteria, infections from which are becoming more and more common. The second, more serious, problem is that it is destroying the natural healthy bacteria that occupy the digestive tract of healthy individuals. This bacteria is critical for digestion, immune function, and neurotransmitter/hormone balance. Disruption of this bacteria can lead to leaky-gut syndrome, which greatly increases the chance of auto-immune disorders and allergies.
*There are certainly instances in which the use of antibiotics is a wise decision, but it is well known that our medical system currently overprescribes them to an alarming degree.
The story continues…
Allergies, auto-immune disorders, and leaky-gut syndrome all have much in common. In the instance of leaky-gut, large proteins are able to penetrate the gut wall due to its poor health (caused by dysbiosis of the gut bacteria) and increased permeability. The immune systems starts to attack these perceived “invaders” which unfortunately are molecularly very similar to some native cells found throughout various parts of the body. Unable to tell the difference, the immune system attacks both and the cycle begins.
Similarly, allergies are an instance of the immune system overreacting to typically harmless stimulants, creating a chronic string of symptoms whenever the body comes in contact with one. While asthma can have different triggers in different cases, one of the most common forms is allergy induced asthma.
If vertebral subluxation is present, which is likely, these problems can continue to be pushed in the wrong direction. A study of 3,013 people concludes that spinal nerve compression had a significant influence on allergic reaction and asthma. As such, if someone with these types of recurring issues has not been checked for subluxation, has a history of repeated antibiotic treatments, and is under steroidal treatment for asthma, allergies, and/or autoimmune disorders, then their long-term health is in significant jeopardy.
What does it all mean?
I know this is a lot of information to digest, so let me summarize it succinctly.
What for many new babies should be the first day of a vibrant, healthy life, becomes the moment they get their first subluxation. Undiagnosed and allowed to create unseen dysfunction, the child has a higher risk of developing ear infections due to poor drainage, neurogenic inflammation, and disrupted immune function.
Treated with repetitive rounds of antibiotics, the immune and digestive system get trashed causing more infections and leaky-gut syndrome. This leads toward more medications, digestive disorders, allergies, and eventually asthma.
What could have been identified and corrected on day one by a properly trained chiropractor becomes a lifelong struggle of poor health. For this reason, we check all babies as early as possible for vertebral subluxation, and correct it if present. By doing so, the nervous system is able to control and coordinate all bodily functions free of interfering factors.