As a parent, you can do things to help prevent your child from getting an ear infection, but certain risk factors are beyond your control.
Risk factors you can't control
All children are susceptible to ear infection, but statistics have shown that certain groups are at higher risk, including:
- Children whose siblings have a history of recurrent ear infection
- Children with a family history of asthma, allergies or eczema
- American Indian, Alaskan Inuit and Canadian Eskimo children (possibly due to genetic factors that affect the shape of the eustachian tube)
You can't control whether your child falls into one of these groups. Instead, focus on how you can make a significant difference in your child's health.
Risk factors you can control
Child care. While it may be difficult to do, depending on your family's situation, studies have shown that you can reduce your child's risk of ear infections by selecting child-care facilities with fewer children.
Children who regularly attend group child care have more ear infections than children who are cared for at home or in smaller child-care settings. The more kids there are, the greater the chance that your child will catch a cold that may lead to an ear infection.
Unless your child has had problems with ear infections, there may be no reason to change your child's child-care arrangement. Many factors go into selecting a child care that's right for your family's circumstances. Only you can weigh the trade-offs and decide what's best for your child.
Secondhand smoke. Children who are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke are more likely to develop ear infections. If you or other members of your household smoke, your child is at greater risk of developing an ear infection and will also take longer to recover. Improperly ventilated wood or coal stoves also can contribute to this problem. Keep your child away from all secondhand smoke. If your child has an ear infection, under no circumstances should anyone smoke in the home.
Bottle-feeding. Studies have shown that infants who are fed formula from a bottle are two to three times more likely to develop ear infections than are infants who are breast-fed for at least 4 months. Breast-feeding helps by passing along immunity that prevents middle ear infections and by keeping the eustachian tubes from getting blocked. If your infant is bottle-fed, he or she should be held in your arms in an upright position. Children of any age should never feed from a bottle while lying in bed. Lying down while drinking from a bottle can lead to blocked eustachian tubes.
Vaccination. A vaccine called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar, Pneumovax, Pnu-Imune) is available to prevent the seven most common subtypes of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which are found most often in middle ear infections. This vaccine is given as a series of four shots at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months of age. Although the vaccine won't prevent all ear infections, you may want to talk to your doctor about giving this vaccination to your child.
Allergies. Although you can't control whether you have a family history of allergies, you can try to control your child's hay fever (allergic rhinitis) with medications taken by mouth or nasal spray, such as steroid nasal sprays or long-acting antihistamines. This may result in fewer middle ear infections during allergy season.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.