Fending Off Earaches

A special probiotic may help defend tots
against ear miseries.

By Lisa James

From November, 2008


Crying, whining, ear-tugging: What parent or grandparent hasn’t witnessed the classic toddler reaction to an ear infection? That’s because otitis media, the scientific name for infections involving the middle ear, is so common among young children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 80% of all youngsters develop these episodes before they reach school age. In some cases hearing loss develops and the child may show delays in language skills.

Conventional medicine’s ear- infection arsenal includes high-dose antibiotics and tubes placed through the eardrum to drain accumulated fluid. But preventing infection in the first place can spare a child the pain that accompanies waterlogged ears—and parents the pain of watching their child suffer, not to mention concern about complications. The latest development: A strain of friendly, naturally occurring bacteria that has shown promise in fending off marauding microbes.

Young and Vulnerable
To understand why children are so prone to ear infections, it helps to know a little anatomy. The eardrum transmits sounds to the middle ear, which carries the incoming vibrations to the inner ear and from there to the brain. To maintain the same air pressure inside and out, the middle ear connects to the throat through the eustachian tube, which also allows fluids to drain away.

The problem starts when the eustachian tube becomes blocked, generally as the result of an upper respiratory infection or an allergy. This causes fluid to build up in the middle ear; if bacteria are trapped in the fluid, an infection may develop. While this can happen in both adults and children, kids have eustachian tubes with small, easily blocked openings. Young tubes are also shorter and straighter, giving microbes a clear path to the ear.

Probiotic Protection
Like the digestive tract, the upper respiratory system provides a home for probiotic bacteria; in return for room and board, these friendly micro-organisms help guard the body against invasion by harmful germs. One probiotic species that dominates the passageways of the nose and throat is Streptococcus salivarius K12. In addition to other preventative measures, such as breastfeeding for as long as possible and keeping children away from tobacco smoke, S. salivarius K12 may provide a valuable resource for parents who want to protect their little ones from ear problems.

A member of the same species as a probiotic strain required by US law for inclusion in commercial yogurt, S. salivarius K12 produces bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances (BLIS), special proteins that in laboratory investigations have shown an ability to target disease-causing microbes (Indian Journal of Medical Research 5/04). This health-promoting organism also appears to help reduce inflammation, a key factor in keeping the airway unblocked, in addition to promoting normal cell function (Infection and Immunity 9/08).

Not surprisingly, S. salivarius K12 has been found in higher levels among healthy children when compared with youngsters susceptible to ear infections. What’s more, children may not be the only ones to benefit from S. salivarius K12—it may even help adults who are prone to persistent bad breath (Journal of Applied Microbiology 4/06).

No one likes to see any child suffer from never-ending ear troubles or endure the possible complications. S. salivarius K12 may help prevent such misery before it starts.

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