Ear infections aren't fun for kids or their parents. And now, researchers believe they know why rates have gone down significantly. 

By Zara Husaini Hanawalt
August 07, 2017
Pneumococcal Vaccine and Ear Infections
Credit: Anna Litvin/Shutterstock

No parent wants to see his or her child suffer from a dreaded ear infection. The good news? Recent research indicates that infection rates are down, and that the pneumococcal vaccine may be responsible for that reduction.

New research published in Pediatrics indicates that ear infection rates have dropped significantly in the past 10 years, far more than they dropped in the 1980s.

Researchers believe the pneumococcal vaccine is behind this decline. The vaccine was developed in 2000, then improved upon in 2010, and it protects against one type of bacteria that often causes ear infections. Researchers observed more than 600 children between 2006 and 2016  to come to this finding, and even researchers were surprised by how dramatic the reduction in ear infection rates was.

This is really significant news. According to a release for this research, about 5 million cases of ear infection affect children in the U.S. every year, leading to 10 million prescriptions and 30 million medical visits.

But slashing the issue may not be so simple. After performing surgical procedures on the study’s subjects, researchers also found that the bacteria responsible for causing ear infections is shifting, and that the new germs may not be killed off by amoxicillin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic to address the health issue.

Children routinely receive the vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12 through 15 months. But since the vaccine appears to be so effective in warding off the type of bacteria responsible for ear infections, other bacteria have reportedly started to take over and become the main causes of the issue. If medical professionals aren’t able to address this shift, researchers believe ear infection rates may rise again.

The vaccine may not be the only factor behind the decline in infection rates either. Researchers also believe that stricter criteria surrounding the diagnoses of ear infections may be affecting the data, as fewer sicknesses may be classified as ear infections than previously were.

It’s a lot to take in, but let’s remember that this research is just the beginning. Medical experts will continue to observe and address the causes of ear infections—and we can only hope that they’ll identify an effective, safe preventative method sooner rather than later.