THRIVE | The perfect storm: Ear infections, antibiotics, asthma, allergies

This is Part 1 of a two-part series that is intended to take us on the all-too-commonly-seen path from childhood ear infections to lifelong asthma and immune challenges.

It starts with the way we birth and deliver babies.

For thousands of years, kids were brought into this world without the need for “intervention and induction” and also with the help of gravity. Was every birth perfect and non-complicated? No. However, 30 to 40 percent or more of them didn’t end with anesthesia, surgical tools and a baby being pulled out by their head and neck, either.

This is where the most common injury to the upper neck, brainstem and cranial areas occurs: It’s the first “kink” that occurs, and it sets the stage for the rest of the path to develop. As you’ll see, one problem leads to another, and the cascade of events is set in motion.

When there is strain, tension, pulling and stress placed on the child’s head and neck during the birth process, it very commonly leads to something called a subluxation. It has three parts: misalignment, fixation (“stuck”) and nerve interference/irritation. All three of those components are at play in this situation.

The greater the amount of intervention during the birth process (induction, forceps, vacuum, C-section, etc.), the greater the likelihood of a significant subluxation to the upper neck and brainstem area. Is it an absolute situation? No, few things are.

As we move forward, these three components of the subluxation lead to two main problems that cause and contribute to ear infections: poor “plumbing” or drainage, and lowered (weakened) neuro-immune function.

When there is physical trauma to the neck in-utero, during birth, or from a fall early in life, it creates that “kink” in close proximity to the “drain pipes” coming from the ears, sinuses and head. Specifically, the top two vertebra share a lot of nerve supply, muscles and structures with the inner ear and sinuses.

If you “kink” those vertebrae, you start to “clog” the drainage of the surrounding structures. In this case, that includes not just the ear, nose and throat regions but the lymphatics that drain the head and neck, as well.

Even today, I still hear the “explanation” given to parents that “early in life, the Eustachian tubes are just more horizontal, and for some kids, that’s worse than others.” That explanation is right…sort of: Those tubes are more horizontal early in life, but that’s because they were designed that way.

Gravity plays far less of a role in actually draining the fluid from our ears than does one other major factor: movement.

When those two physical components of the subluxation occur — misalignment and fixation — not only does it “clog” up the actual physical space in the ears, sinuses and lymphatics, but it’s the fixation part that really messes things up. When those vertebrae get jammed and “stuck” from early physical trauma, they don’t move around as easily or as much, and therefore, they don’t do their job in helping move fluid out of the ear and sinuses.

The longer fluid is allowed to sit in the inner ear, the greater the chance “bad guys” like viruses (most of them) and bacteria set up shop, replicate and cause an infection.

On top of all that, because that region of the brainstem and spinal cord house and protect a very important “hard drive” and “operating system” for our immune system, when we have a subluxation, we can have a compromised immune function.

If you have bad plumbing and bad immune function, you have ear infections.

The role of antibiotics

We’ve had plenty of research since the 1980s that antibiotics don’t work very well for ear, sinus and respiratory infections. And they also come with side effects. Not only are there short-term side effects such as stomach pain and diarrhea in a lot of kids, but the long-term ones are even worse.

Studies have shown that for each antibiotic given to a child in the first year of life, it increases their risk of asthma and allergies two to four times. Antibiotic usage can also lead to resistance and actually increase the risk of reoccurrence.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a watch-and-wait approach. The new recommendations, which offer more rigorous diagnostic criteria to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use,” was published online Feb. 25 and in the March issue of Pediatrics.

If antibiotics are known to not work well, known to have short- and long-term side effects and known to contribute to what is now a major public health crisis (antibiotic-resistant strains or “super bugs”), then why are we continuing to use them at increasing rates?

Stay tuned for next month’s column to find out. 

DR. NATE CLEM is a chiropractor specializing in pediatrics and family wellness at Discovery Wellness Center ( in Queen Anne. To comment on this column, write to