Is it an ear infection--or heartburn?

Here's a reason your child's pesky ear infection may be so hard to beat: It might not be an infection at all. When Washington University School of Medicine doctors tested the ear fluid of 22 children with frequent or persistent infections, they found the digestive enzyme pepsin in almost 70 percent of the samples. The findings suggest that acid reflux could be causing earaches. Stomach acid most likely creeps up into the back of children's throats, then drips down into their ear tubes while they sleep, explains lead researcher Judith E.C. Lieu, MD. That causes the inflammation and pain--and would explain why infections don't disappear in 10 percent of kids even after repeated rounds of antibiotics.

Two small problems: There's no research showing that acid-blocking drugs will dear up ear trouble, and there's no way to detect pepsin in ear fluid. But down the road, it's possible this finding could lead to far fewer unnecessary ear-tube surgeries for the little ones.

Hear this: If he's got an earache he just can't get rid of, try raising the head of his bed, giving him small, frequent meals, and cutting back on acidic foods.

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By Eric Steinmehl

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