How Do I Help My Child Prevent Ear Infections?

by Dania Lindenberg, MD, Pediatrician

Although usually not dangerous, ear infections can be extremely painful and disruptive to a young child’s life. Unfortunately, they are most common in kids under 7. That’s because young children have shorter, softer and more horizontal eustachian tubes than older children, which are more easily blocked.

While factors may contribute to childhood ear infections beyond your control, there are things you can do to help prevent them. For example:

  • Vaccinate your child
    Vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine series (Prevnar) has been found to lead to a decreased incidence of ear infections.
  • Wash your hands
    Children and adults who wash their hands often can help prevent the transmission of upper respiratory viruses, which predispose people to ear infections.
  • Breastfeed
    Breastmilk contains antibodies that can help protect your baby against various illnesses, including ear infections.
  • Avoid bottles in bed
    When your baby is lying down, milk may pool in the throat and enter the eustachian tubes, creating a medium for bacterial growth.
  • Avoid smoke exposure
    Smoking has been associated with an increased incidence of ear infections. Some possible explanations include inflammation of the eustachian tubes caused by the smoke and reduced effectiveness of our ear’s built-in mucous clearing mechanism in the presence of smoke.
  • Decrease pacifier use
    Pacifiers have been associated with an increased incidence of ear infections. The sucking may inhibit proper eustachian tube function. Plus, pacifiers may harbor viruses and bacteria.
  • Switch your child to a smaller daycare center
    Kids in large centers tend to be exposed to more upper respiratory viruses, predisposing them to ear infections.

Despite your best efforts to prevent them, your kids may still develop recurrent ear infections. If that’s the case, he or she may need to be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist. Be sure to visit your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned your child has an ear infection. Symptoms can include irritability, loss of appetite, ear pain, fever, drainage from the air, difficulty sleeping and trouble hearing.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Dania Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego.