Ear infections – grommets OR diet?

  • By the age of four, about 8 in 10 Australian kids will have had an ear infection (1)

  • Failsafers report that diet works quickly and removes the need for grommets

  • Most doctors don’t mention diet, despite long waiting times for surgery due to covid, yet glue ear can cause hearing impairment leading to serious speech and language developmental delay.


Frequent ear infections are often a symptom of food intolerance (2). In our experience, the RPAH elimination diet helps to find out exactly which food chemicals are causing the problem.

Cows' milk in particular has been linked to recurrent ear infections (3) but our readers report that the culprit can be any of the following - dairy, salicylates, amines, additives or a combination.

“When I told (the paediatrician) we had seen huge results on the diet he said he would never expect a parent to go to that much trouble and would therefore never suggest it ...” – Wendy from story [699]

“My belief is…she (the paediatrician) does not emphasise the food intolerance aspect enough and tends to concentrate on the antibiotics and grommet course of treatments” – Simone from story [007]

Reader stories


“Before going dairy free, my 3 yo son had 30 ear infections including 4 in the last two months.  This has dropped to NONE in the four months since going dairy free”’ – from story [1073]

“At nine months my son (now nearly 4) had grommets in and adenoids out because of chronic glue ear… I think that his problems started three weeks ago when I took my son off soy milk…(and back on to cows' milk)” - from [227]

“Although the diet seemed to work it bought with it new problems … including ear infections … that I can now link to cows' milk… Since we took him off the cows' milk as well and got over the withdrawals my son now no longer needs speech therapy…" - Kylie from story [716]


“My daughter had major ear troubles when salicylates were reintroduced… she is asthmatic and has had frequent colds and flu and ear troubles for a long time - salicylates may have been the problem all along” – Sharon from story [1092]

“I'm 22 years old … I could relate to so many of the symptoms: reflux as a baby, constant ear infections as a child… I tested dairy first, since I had thought for years that I was lactose intolerant, and passed. I've just completed the sals challenge and it seems to be a culprit - Isobel from story [1206].

“She had 7 ear infections in 5 months and had grommets put in at 8 months…  FINALLY after many trips to the doctor and an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, my clever doctor suggested a salicylate-free diet for our baby…” – from story [065]

“When Emily Rose was about 11 months ….she had a fourth ear infection … The light dawned as I read Fed Up - this child is very sensitive to salicylates … Since withdrawing the cranberry juice 10 days ago …her snotty nose has cleared up for the first time in months” – Simone from story [007]


“We started the diet 2 days ago… My four year old son, who has had frequent ear infections, grommets, and a severe language delay, …said that his "ear was working now"… we were on the verge of having to put him through more traumatic surgery plus spend another $1300 to replace his grommets” – from story [086]

"My 4.5yr old son’s … continual congestion and ear infections (2 lots of grommets)… are being controlled now by diet ... we've now found out that benzoates are his worst enemy. His nose his dry now and needs no medication" – from story [403]

“When Bronte was three… she had the worst glue ear the ENT specialist had seen in years. She had grommets put in …but things didn't improve
- By the time she got to four she was still attending speech therapy…(after 3 weeks of elim diet) …Her language improved exceptionally
- (after the amine challenge) we couldn’t understand a word she said. We now know she is intolerant to amines in a huge way….
- Her speech therapist has since done the diet with her child and encourages other parents… she saw such a big change in Bronte’s speech and development ...” – Wendy from story [699]

“Chris also suffers from glue ear and for the last four years has had grommets inserted every winter to enable him to hear clearly…symptoms including … vocal tics, word and phrase repetition. (As I know now, these are all indicative of food intolerance.)…” – from story [575]


1. ENT surgeon speaks out on World Hearing Day on lifelong impact of COVID surgical delays, by Giselle Wakatama ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-03/fear-for-childhood-deafness-amid-covid-surgery-halt/100872122?utm_campaign=abc_news_web&utm_content=mail&utm_medium=content_shared&utm_source=abc_news_web - Most doctors don't mention diet https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/glue-ear 

2. Frequent infections often a symptom of food intolerance,   Loblay RH and Swain AR "'Food intolerance'. In Wahlqvist ML, Truswell AS, Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition. London: John Libbey, 1986, pages 169-177. https://www.fedup.com.au/images/stories/LoblaySwain1986.pdf - see also blog https://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/immune-systems-and-failsafe-eating. See more Med J Aust. 1984 Sep 1;141(5 Suppl):S37-42. Adverse reactions to foods. Allen DH, Van Nunen S, Loblay R, Clarke L, Swain A. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6482784  Full text https://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/research/adversereactions.pdf 

3. Juntti H and others, Cow's milk allergy is associated with recurrent otitis media during childhood. Acta Otolaryngol. 1999;119(8):867-73. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10728925/
From our point of view, it is not necessarily allergy. More recently the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be helpful. Obviously this would help with sensitivity to additives but not salicylates. Fernando M Calatayud-Sáez et al, Effects of the Traditional Mediterranean Diet in Patients with Otitis Media with Effusion, Nutrients, 2021, Jun 24;13(7):2181. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34202888/

If you’d like to try diet   

We support the RPAH Elimination diet (from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney). There are 3 steps

  • elimination for 3-6 weeks
  • challenges
  • gradual reintroduction

For best success we recommend seeing an experienced and supportive dietitian from our list:      


•   People find my books and DVD extremely helpful and dietitians say it cuts an hour off consultation time if people have read my book Fed Up before they go. You don't have to buy – my books and DVD are available in libraries

•   Our free booklets show how manageable this diet can be

•   People say our facebook group is friendly and supportive: Sue Dengate Failsafe Group

Read more

Introduction to food intolerance

How to start failsafe eating