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Food Allergies As Triggers for Ear Infections and Other Upper Respiratory Problems

Published date: May 27, 2014 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen
(img thanks to
(img thanks to

Here at the IBS Treatment Center, we are experts at diagnosing food allergies and sensitivities associated with digestive symptoms. But did you know that these same food allergies can also be the cause of symptoms that occur in your ears, nose, and throat?

This might sound like some crazy internet talk, but not only have we seen it far to often to ignore, the science backs us up too.

What does ‘upper respiratory’ include?

The phrase ‘upper respiratory’ refers to the parts of your breathing system that reside in your head and neck (as opposed to the parts that are in your chest, like your lungs). Ear symptoms, such as plugged ears, ringing in the ears, and—most commonly—recurrent ear infections, are relatively common complaints. Nose symptoms can include chronic sinusitis, recurrent sinus infections, stuffy nose, and the development of nasal polyps; these symptoms, when caused by food allergies, frequently do not resolve with surgery or other treatments.

Other upper respiratory symptoms include tonsillitis, chronic swollen lymph nodes, seasonal allergies, and frequent throat clearing. All of these symptoms can have strong associations with food allergies and can often be successfully treated with appropriate elimination of allergenic foods from the diet.

Even asthma has been associate with food allergies, as found in this paper published in JAMA.

How do food allergies cause upper respiratory symptoms?

Food allergies cause inflammation. And where is the first place that food touches your body? In your mouth. Since the back of your mouth is directly connected to your ears (via the Eustachian tube) and your upper respiratory tract, consuming allergenic foods can cause inflammation in the Eustachian tubes (which are located at the back of your throat, and help to drain the ears into the throat) and nasal passages.

This type of inflammation is similar to the digestive distress experienced by many patients when they ingest foods to which they are allergic or sensitive. Reducing this inflammation through strict allergen avoidance can help to eliminate or greatly reduce the severity of associated upper respiratory symptoms. A study in the journal Otolaryngology found a clear connection between food allergies and ear infections, as have other studies. This is particularly true in children as described in another paper.

Which food allergy is most commonly associated with upper respiratory symptoms?

An allergy to cow’s milk is frequently associated with upper respiratory symptoms (as well as digestive symptoms).

However, food allergies to virtually any and all foods can trigger these frustrating symptoms. An upper respiratory reaction can also be extremely delayed, sometimes lasting days and even weeks, making it challenging to see a connection between diet and symptoms. For these reasons, we advocate appropriate food allergy testing, as opposed to guessing and checking indefinitely by removing foods from the diet for varying lengths of time (commonly called an elimination diet).

The big question is: how do you accurately test for food allergies?

Food allergy testing is very complicated, and most doctors have not been trained to understand or utilize it. Even traditional allergists rarely connect food allergies to ear infections or upper respiratory infections. For more information on testing for food all, visit our page on this topic.

  1. This testing can identify reactions that may trigger digestive symptoms as well as upper respiratory and other systemic inflammatory symptoms throughout the body. Using this information we have been able to help thousands of our patients of all ages, from infants to seniors, live happier, symptom-free lives!

(image thanks to creative commons)