Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses among infants and toddlers. They are also the most common reason for doctor’s visits and antibiotic prescriptions in that age group. The term ear infection usually refers to otitis media (OM). Acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. Otitis media with effusion is a fluid buildup in the middle ear, but it typically does not get infected.
While there are no guaranteed methods of preventing ear infections, parents can try some strategies that may reduce their child’s risk of frequent otitis media.
- Breast-feed as long as possible. Formula-fed babies have a two- or three-times greater risk of getting OM. This may be due both to the protective antibodies in mother’s milk and to the more upright position of a nursing baby.
- If you do bottle-feed, hold the baby while feeding. Do not give the bottle to a baby who is lying down and do not let him fall asleep with the bottle.
- Nix the smoking. Exposure to secondhand smoke greatly increases a child’s risk of OM, and it prolongs recovery time. If you are unable to quit just yet, do not smoke in the house, the car or anywhere near your child.
- Allergies are often overlooked as a potential source of chronic ear infections. Children may have environmental allergies, such as hay fever, or they may have food allergies. The most common food allergies are to cow’s milk, wheat, egg white and soy.
- Try a different childcare facility. The incidence of ear infections has soared in the last couple of decades since more parents must work and put their kids in childcare. Children in large day care facilities are more likely to catch colds and develop OM. If your child has recurrent OM, try switching to day care with fewer children, such as a licensed family day care.
For more information, see the Web site of the American Academy of Otolaryngology.