Hereditary Risk: High
Most Vulnerable: While the exact odds are unknown, it's believed that the tendency to have frequent ear infections is 60 to 70 percent genetic, says Richard Rosenfeld, M.D., chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York. It's likely that parents can pass on a facial shape or eustachian-tube structure that makes their kids prone to middle-ear problems.
Best Defenses: Doctors recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least three months, keeping your home free from cigarette smoke, limiting daytime pacifier use, getting an annual flu shot, and reducing exposure to viruses by encouraging your child to wash her hands frequently. If you use day care, consider switching to a provider with six or fewer children, recommends Dr. Rosenfeld. Although ear infections are not contagious, the colds that can lead to them are. Fortunately, children usually outgrow ear infections by age 7.