#117 - The Connection Between Ear Infections + The Vestibular System

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 02, 2020

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The Connection Between Ear Infections + The Vestibular System

Welcome to episode 117! Today we are discussing ear infections and whether there is a correlation between frequent ear infections and vestibular challenges. We are also giving you some simple, concrete ideas to help your child / client improve their ability to process and modulate vestibular input. 

We would love to hear your input on this topic - does your child suffer from frequent ear infections? Do you notice that they also struggle with vestibular processing? Let us know! 

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The Connection Between Ear Infections And The Vestibular System

Ear infections are an unfortunately prevalent childhood illness, oftentimes resulting in discomfort, fever and even hearing impairment. Yet the impact of this common ailment can be felt beyond these symptoms - ear infections have been known to disrupt children's vestibular system as well.

What Is An Ear Infection?

As KidsHealth.com outlines, children tend to get ear infections more often than adults due the unique positioning of their eustachian tubes—shorter and horizontally arranged—which opens a doorway for bacteria and viruses to enter into their middle ears. Additionally, these tubes are significantly narrower in diameter which increases the possibility of blockages occurring too.

Furthermore, what is even worse is that most kids have enlarged adenoids at the back of their throat which can obstruct with proper opening of those same eustachian tubes. If left untreated, bacteria can start to thrive in these fluid-filled spaces, leading onto infection and thus indirectly affecting the vestibular system.

How Ear Infections Affect The Vestibular System

The vestibular system or inner ear is responsible for balance, proprioception and our sense of orientation. In cases of chronic ear infections, an accumulation of fluid can cause a disruption to the delicate balance mechanisms inside our inner ear leading onto symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness, vertigo, and/or nausea
  • Issues with coordination and balance
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory
  • Lack of spatial awareness
  • Poor tolerance to vestibular input, like gravitational insecurity or a general dislike of movement.
  • Poor postural reflexes and ability to maintain an upright position
  • Carsickness, or dislike riding in a moving vehicle
  • Delayed speech development.

If your child is going through constant ear infections, you'll likely have to go back and forth with doctors and get tubes. But it's key that you make sure all of these issues are clearly communicated to their occupational therapists, as treatments may fluctuate in the face of an ongoing infection. Having this information will allow them to adjust treatment appropriately from a vestibular perspective.

Supporting The Vestibular System

Maintaining proper hygiene is the first step to preventing ear infections - washing hands regularly, not putting objects in their ears, avoiding overcrowded areas etc are just a few of the tips that will help you avoid this problem. In addition to this, physical activities that involve balance and coordination such as running, jumping, swinging, rolling downhill, or somersaulting are also a great way to tone your child’s vestibular system.

The most essential part is to have your head in different positions as often as possible. To provide you with a better understanding of what this means, whenever your head changes its position. For example: if you look up at the sky and then down towards your feet; that's an alteration in position. If afterwards you turn it left and right again, it will engage the vestibular system even more so!

In conclusion, audiologists and ENTs can lend invaluable assistance with shaping a treatment plan for your little one in collaboration with you pediatrician and occupational therapist. As parents it is important to take preventive measures to avoid them as much as possible and help support the delicate balance mechanisms with appropriate physical activities.

 

BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS

While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.


This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.


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