Fewer Babies Are Getting Ear Infections—Here's Why

The rate of ear infections in infants is dropping for a suprising reason.

baby with ear infection
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My parents love to tell me all about how I had so many ear infections growing up that I had to have tubes put in not just once, but twice.

It was something I thought about a lot when my two kids were little. But luckily, neither of them were plagued with chronic infections. Maybe that's because, according to a new study, fewer American babies are now getting them.

For the study, 367 babies were followed during their first year of life. Researchers gathered information on family history of ear infections, cigarette smoke exposure, and breast versus formula feeding.

What they found was a significant drop in the number of middle ear infections compared to 20 years ago. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, about 60 percent of babies had suffered from a middle ear infection by their first birthday. In comparison, only 46 percent of the babies examined from 2008 to 2014 experienced an infection by the time they were a year old.

The researchers chalk the decline up to a mix of factors, including the introduction of PCV13 vaccine in 2010, decreasing rates of smoking exposure, and an increase in breastfeeding.

"We clearly showed that frequent upper respiratory infections, carriage of bacteria in the nose, and lack of breastfeeding are major risk factors for ear infections," said lead researcher Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree. "Prolonged breastfeeding was associated with significant reductions in both colds and ear infections, which is a common complication of the cold. It is likely that medical interventions in the past few decades, such as the use of pneumonia and flu vaccines and decreased smoking, helped reduce ear infection incidences...Parents should make sure they're on schedule with the recommended vaccines."

She also suggested that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of ear infections because breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect babies against infections. "Breastfeeding is good," she said. "Parents should be encouraged to do it if they can."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.

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