Impact of Ear Infections on Learning and Behavior
- Friday, June 28, 2013
“Ninety per cent of children with hyperactivity studied gave a history of three or more ear infections...,” according to a study published in the May 1997 issue of Clinical Pediatrics1. In a 1987 article in Parents Pediatric Report, researchers stated, “Ear infections and their effect on language development are prominent topics in pediatric literature. Hyperactivity is another item of great interest.... On the surface they seem to be two unrelated entities. But could there be a connection between these two conditions? Very much so, says a study from the University of Colorado in Denver, and Yeshiva University in New York.2
Early childhood ear infections, which plague many of our children, often succeed in administering an effective, “one-two punch” to a child. First, the subsequent, repeated use of antibiotics to clear up the infection upsets the child’s natural intestinal ecology, resulting in an irritated nervous system. Second, infection and inflammation of the ear often cause some damage to the “cilia” of the ear, the tiny hairlike structures of the ear that help transmit sound, affecting both language abilities and auditory processing.
These effects can be felt throughout a child’s school career. However, once the cause is established, many natural things can be done to greatly reduce and eliminate these problems.
Effects of Repeated Antibiotic Use
We are very grateful for the discovery of antibiotics. Their timely use has saved many lives. However, the multiple uses of antibiotics, particularly the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, tend to sterilize a child’s intestines, eliminating the good bacteria while feeding the naturally occurring yeast in the intestines. This causes an upset balance in the ecology that directly affects a child’s nervous system.3 Some books that explain this process in more detail are Help for the Hyperactive Child by William Crook, M.D. and Superimmunity for Kids by Leo Galland, M.D. It is not unusual to see this upset ecology manifesting itself as problems with learning or with behavior.
The learning problems associated with this condition tend to be poor memory, difficulty with sustained attention (often seeming “spacey”), and difficulty understanding new concepts. Behavior problems that are frequently reported are hyperactivity, anger, moodiness, irritability, or inappropriate behavior, such as talking too loudly or invading others’ space regularly.4 In my experience working with bright but struggling students in special education and regular education programs, I have seen many children exhibiting these symptoms. Some of the children are placed on medication to help with focusing. Others are labeled with a learning disability, often with an auditory or language processing dysfunction.
As I have studied the files of this diverse group of children, however, I have often found a common link. I found that many of them suffered with many ear infections as young children. I also found that even more of the children have some type of allergy. As we know, after sustained antibiotic or steroid use, there often is an accompanying yeast/fungus overgrowth that goes unrecognized. When yeast overgrowth is an issue, the child often develops a “leaky gut,” which often leads to the development of common food allergies. The most common offending foods, in the case of ear infections or bed-wetting, are milk and milk products.
I have seen so many children’s “learning and behavior problems” respond to simple interventions such as a six-week trial elimination of dairy products (not one teaspoon), along with replacing some of the missing good bacteria in the intestines.56 It is not hard to replace the good bacteria that antibiotics have reduced or eradicated.
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