Two out of three children under the age of 3 experience at least one ear infection. Some babies simply have a higher-than-average risk of getting ear infections. These include children with Down syndrome, cleft palate, or allergies. Also, boys are more often affected than girls, and Caucasians and Native Americans are at higher risk than other ethnic groups.
But there are still some things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your child will get (or continue to get) ear infections. Here are five prevention methods:
1. Breastfeed. Breastfeeding can play a role in preventing ear infections by passing along immunities and helping the tube in the inner ear function better. In fact, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely your child will suffer from ear infections.
2. Don't smoke. Living with secondhand tobacco smoke can increase your child's risk for ear infections by up to 50 percent! Studies show that the particles in tobacco can congest the tube in the inner ear. This congestion prevents the tube from being able to drain fluid and sets a child up for an ear infection. Even if you only smoke outdoors, your baby can be exposed to those dust particles from your hair or your clothing.
3. Avoid giving your baby a bottle while he's lying down. When a baby is sucking and swallowing while in a horizontal position, the tubes of his inner ear begin to open, allowing fluids and germs from the throat to get into the middle ear. It's these fluids and germs that can "infect" the ear. If you're bottlefeeding your baby, try to hold him as upright as possible while he's feeding and avoid letting him take a bottle to bed.
4. Prevent the common cold. Just as tobacco particles can cause congestion that leads to ear infections, so can the common cold. Limit your baby's exposure to large crowds and avoid having her held by people who are sick. Once your child gets older, encourage her to wash her hands often, especially before touching her eyes, nose, or mouth.
5. If the problem continues, talk to your pediatrician. If your child suffers from recurrent ear infections, her pediatrician might want to put her on antibiotics for an extended period of time to prevent future infections. Another treatment option for children with chronic ear infections is the insertion of a tympanostomy tube into the ear, which allows fluid to drain from -- and air to return to -- the middle ear. If ear infections seem to be hindering your child's hearing or learning, consider discussing these prevention options with your pediatrician.
Sources: American Medical Association; The Nemours Foundation; Anne Beal, MD
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.