Andrew Goldberg, MD, never tires of telling people about how he was outsmarted by a patient while working as a second-year otolaryngology resident at the University of Pittsburgh. Now the director of rhinology and sinus surgery at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Dr. Goldberg recalled how he assisted in the examination of a patient with a history of chronic otitis externa in one ear. Despite repeated trips to doctors for antibiotics, vinegar washes and drops, the patient’s ear trouble always came back.
Explore this issue:December 2012
Not this time. The doctors assumed that their treatments had finally done the trick, only to be told by the patient that he had likely cured himself by taking earwax from his good ear and sticking it in his bad ear. “I had no idea what that meant. I’m sure that we assumed, at the time, that what he was telling us was nonsense, that he was a little nutty,” Dr. Goldberg said. “We never thought anything more about it.”
The home remedy, however, now seems prescient in light of accumulating research suggesting that microbiomes, or distinct bacterial communities that coexist with us throughout our bodies, may play key roles in maintaining human health. When he began conducting his own microbiome research about five years ago, Dr. Goldberg realized that his former patient may have taken an intact, healthy microbiome and used it to re-inoculate the disrupted bacterial community in his bad ear.