How to reduce the risk of ear infections in kids
If you find yourself thinking “Another ear infection?” about your child, this article might be for you.
Cold and flu season often brings an increase of ear infections in children, who I see frequently for this condition.
In many cases, these infections are viral and resolve on their own or with a short course of antibiotics. Children with frequent, recurring and/or chronic ear infections are often referred to our clinic for consideration of temporary ear tube placement, which can decrease the frequency and severity of the infections.
I am often asked by parents if there are other means of reducing the risk of these infections, and if there are things that predispose their children to this problem. Below are risk factors for recurrent and chronic middle ear infections in children to help educate parents.
Factors that affect the risk of ear infections in children
Nasal allergies are a significant risk factor; indoor allergens and respiratory allergies contribute to the onset of infections. Allergies are prevalent in more than 25 percent of children and are a major contributor to ear infections. Accurate diagnosis and adequate treatment of allergies can help reduce ear-related issues.
Upper respiratory infection (URI), which includes the presence of coughing, runny nose or sore throat, is a significant cause of ear infections. Viruses and/or bacteria can be involved in these infections, thus the use of antibiotics to fight some cases of ear infection.
Snoring — defined as the presence of loud snoring at least three times per week — is a common symptom in children. Early evaluation and intervention may prevent children from developing middle ear disease. The removal of enlarged adenoids may be one way to improve ear function (and snoring).
Second-hand smoke has been associated with increased prevalence of middle ear disease. Several studies suggest that exposure to nicotine and other smoking products could make children more susceptible to ear infections and enhance the possibility of bacteria invading the middle ear by weakening the body’s natural defenses against these organisms. Avoiding or greatly decreasing smoke exposure can help.
Breastfeeding is believed to be an optimal defense against ear infections. It’s reported that breastfeeding, even for only three months, could lessen the risk of middle ear infection in children.
Day care attendance could increase the risk of children’s exposure to respiratory pathogens. It has been reported to be a significant risk factor for upper-respiratory infections in children.
Genetic predisposition is still under study but may explain the prevalence of more ear infections in some families.
It’s important to note that your child’s specific situation and risk factors may differ, so please consult with a MultiCare ENT specialist near you for a personalized evaluation and treatment plan.
About The Author
Sepehr Oliaei, MD, is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at MultiCare ENT, Sinus & Allergy Specialists - Tacoma. To schedule an appointment or evaluation, call 253-403-0065.More stories by this author