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Ear Infections May be Related to Childhood ADHD

Research on ADHD shows that children who suffer from middle ear infections are more likely to be hyperactive and experience attention problems. Children in general are prone to ear infections, as the ear canal is still growing. During early childhood, the pathway to the middle ear is at a flat angle, making it easier for bacteria to set in. However, the increased risk for ear infections also increases the risk for attentional difficulties and other ADHD-like symptoms.

The relationship between ear infections and childhood ADHD is clear. The loss of hearing, no matter how mild, can result from a fluid build-up in the ear canal.  When this happens, the child fails to pick up verbal cues or does not respond well to adult voices. From somebody else's point of view, it looks as though the child is daydreaming or unable to pay attention when, in fact, the child is simply unable to hear.  In some cases, auditory processing disorders and other deficiencies can stem from these ear infections, even if the hearing problems are temporary. In a separate article, we discuss how auditory processing disorders often occur with ADHD symptoms.

An interesting study in Long Island discovered that children who have learning disabilities or hyperactivity have had childhood ear infections.  It seems as though the timing of the ear infections is related to the onset of these other disorders - children with learning disabilities experience ear infections during early childhood, whereas children with hyperactivity have more recent ear infections. This is important, because it suggests that hyperactivity caused by ear problems is only temporary.  But it looks like ear infections can aggravate ADHD symptoms in another way.

Antibiotics are typically used to treat ear infections.  Even though these medications do eliminate most infections, they also tend to kill many of the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (GI) along with the bad bacteria that cause the infections.  If the numbers of good bacteria in the GI tract fall, the digestion and nutrient absorption process suffers, leading to nutritional deficiencies.  We have several articles on how deficiencies in zinc, calcium, magnesium, and key vitamins are related to ADHD, as well as how ADHD diets and supplements can correct this.

These findings provide compelling evidence that ear infections and their treatment are related to the onset of ADHD symptoms. Although the incidence of ear infection in childhood is high, they can be prevented by cleaning the ears with cotton buds and making sure that excess water does not stay in the ears after a bath or a swim. If your child has to be treated for an ear infection, make sure that he or she takes a multivitamin to prevent nutritional deficiencies caused by bacterial death in the GI tract.