There are steps that parents can take to prevent ear infections from occurring in the first place.
- Breastfeed your baby. Nursing offers infants valuable immune protection, which translates into fewer colds, fewer allergies, and therefore, fewer ear infections. A study published in 2003 found that exclusive breastfeeding, especially during the first three to four months of life, decreases a child's risk of developing ear infections almost by half.
- Don't smoke. There is clear evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke increases a child's susceptibility to ear infections. Tobacco smoke contains small particles that can clog the eustachian tube, putting a child at risk for repeated infections.
- Ditch the nighttime bottle. Laying your baby down in her crib with a bottle at bedtime can increase her risk for ear infections. The constant suck-swallow motion opens the eustachian tube, and when this happens often in a supine position, it allows breast milk or formula to enter the middle ear space, which can lead to an infection. Pacifier use at bedtime only slightly raises your baby's chance of getting an ear infection, because she already has to be sick for germs to enter the middle ear.
- Vaccinate! Prevnar, a vaccine that protects against pneumococcus bacteria, which causes meningitis, pneumonia, and most ear infections, is offered in a series of four injections from 2 months of age. Since it became available in 2000, we've seen a small but apparent decline in the number of ear infections. We've also seen a decrease in the number of prescriptions written for antibiotics, and the rate of surgical ear-tube placement has dropped by about 25 percent. Also make sure your child also gets an annual flu shot (not for infants under 6 months). Viruses cause a minority of ear infections, but antibiotics are powerless against these types of infections.