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Ear Infections: Impact on Learning and Behavior

by Dianne Craft

“Ninety percent of hyperactive children studied gave a history of three or more ear infections…”, according to a study published in the May 1997 issue of Clinical Pediatrics. 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.”

Early 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, the infection and inflammation of the ear often causes some damage to the cilia of the ear, the tiny hair-like 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 use of antibiotics, particularly the use of the broad-spectrum antibiotics such as Septra and Ceclor, 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. Some books that explain this process in more detail are, Help for Your Hyperactive Child by William Crook, M.D. and Superimmunity for Kids by Leo Galland, M.D.

Most often we see this upset ecology manifesting itself as problems with learning or with behavior. The learning problems associated with this condition are a poor memory, difficulty with sustained attention (often seeming “spacey”), and difficulty understanding new concepts.

The behavior problems that we see are hyperactivity, anger, moodiness, irritability, or inappropriate behavior, often talking too loudly or invading others’ space regularly. 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 them are placed on the medication Ritalin. Others are labeled with a learning disability, often with an auditory or language processing dysfunction. A smaller group are placed in a behavior lab program in the school, with an individual IEP designed to modify their unsociable behavior.

When 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 a young child. I also found that even more of the children have some type of allergy. As we know, when yeast overgrowth is an issue, the child often develops a “leaky gut,” causing food allergies to develop. The most common offending food, in the case of ear infections or bed wetting, is milk and milk products.

I have seen so many children’s learning and behavior problems respond to simple interventions such as a trial elimination of dairy products, along with replacing some of the missing good bacteria in the intestines. To replace the good bacteria, a parent can simply buy a product in a health food store that contains the good bacterial strains, acidophilus and bifidus. Although this good bacteria is present in yogurt, it is in very small amounts.

When purchasing a more concentrated form of this good bacteria as a supplement, buy a brand that is refrigerated in the health food store, since this is a live bacteria. It can be purchased in capsule or powder, and placed in juice or cold food without altering its taste. The liquid and chewable forms of this supplement are far less viable.

Parents report to me that giving their child this natural beneficial bacteria two or three times a day often results in a reduction in temper tantrums, less irritability, better concentration, and a more cooperative child. Reducing sugar intake also makes a noticeable difference in behavior.

There are many more things that can be done to help a child whose nervous system is upset due to the multiple use of antibiotics, but this is a good beginning and almost always brings good results.

Effects on Language and Auditory Processing

One of the results of multiple childhood ear infections can be difficulty with language and auditory processing. These children have difficulty distinguishing certain sounds. Sometimes this difficulty with the discrimination of individual sounds can present itself as a speech problem or in learning phonics. Both their reading and their spelling are affected.

It also affects the way that they are able to listen. We frequently accuse our children of having, “selective hearing,” meaning that they choose to listen to things other than their parents. This can be the case of course, but because of the amount of energy the process of listening and storing auditory information requires, the child can do only so much listening, before he tunes out because of the overload.

At times these children are inaccurately diagnosed as having ADD (attention deficit disorder), when actually their attention is dependent on the amount of auditory processing that is required for a situation. These children often have difficulty sequencing, as represented by repeating a story with the events in proper order. They also have difficulty hearing their own internal voice, preferring to read aloud to understand information. Tasks that require alphabetizing are particularly onerous to them, as they have to repeat the alphabet over and over to themselves in their head. They often do anything to avoid this type of task.

What are some things that we can do to help our child with these kinds of problems resulting from multiple ear infections? We can teach them in a more visual manner, using pictures for clarification, teaching phonic sounds (called phonemes) with the letter combination superimposed on a picture that gives that sound. We can teach them right brain strategies such as visualizing a word to more easily memorize its spelling. We can teach them math facts using funny stories and pictures, using their right brain to store them, rather than the rote learning that the left, auditory brain hemisphere enjoys.

And we can use natural vitamin supplements to help heal the auditory system. As mentioned earlier, the cilia of the ear is affected by multiple ear infections. In his book, Feed Your Kids Right, by Lendon H. Smith, M.D., the famous “baby doctor,” states that the highest concentration of vitamin A in the whole body is in the cilia of the ear. After multiple ear infections the store of this vitamin is greatly depleted.

Often these children hear noises in their ear that are very distracting. Children I see often describe the sound as a mosquito buzzing close to their ear, or like the “whoosh” of wind in their ear. Knowing that a deficiency of essential fatty acids is often found in learning disabilities, we can supplement them by using some orange flavored cod liver oil, which is a good source of both vitamin A and essential fatty acids. Flaxseed oil (not capsules) that also contains borage oil is helpful in addition to the cod liver oil. Of course you would always add some vitamin E in the form of drops or capsules to keep the oil from oxidizing in the body.

Along with a good yeast-free multiple vitamin and separate multiple mineral, a healing program would be started. It has also been found that the use of lecithin granules, by helping the body utilize the essential fatty acids more efficiently, brings even faster results in minimizing the effect of an auditory processing problem. According to the research, after four months, the child's information processing should be much easier.

Although the impact of multiple childhood ear infections on a child’s learning and behavior can be large, it does not have to be permanent. There are many natural approaches to correcting the influence of these ear infections. Learning can become easier and a child's nervous system can be calmed by using the natural supplements that God has given us.

Dianne Craft is president of Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado, and the author of Brain Integration Therapy for Children Manual, and “The Biology of Behavior” audio tape set. For more articles on children and learning visit her website:

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