Many factors play a role in whether your child will get an ear infection.
- Some of them involve the structure of the ear itself, particularly the eustachian tubes.
- Others involve exposure to germs, such as bacteria and viruses.
- Some are related to inflammation of the nasal passage as a result of allergies.
- Other health problems may make a child more likely to have ear infections.
- Still others involve a family's lifestyle.
Ear infections almost always begin with swelling of the
- The eustachian tube may also become plugged when the normally thin, clear mucus made by the lining of the nose and middle ear becomes thickened, such as when your child has a cold.
- In infants and young children, the eustachian tube is shorter, narrower, and less rigid than in older children and adults, making it easier for bacteria from a cold to pass from the back of the nose and throat into the middle ear. In addition, a child's narrower eustachian tube is more likely to become obstructed.
- When the eustachian tube swells and closes, it traps infected fluid in the middle ear and creates a breeding ground for germs.
The most common bacteria that cause ear infections includeHaemophilus influenzae (which is associated with respiratory infections in children), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus). Less common bacteria include Moraxella (Branhamella) catarrhalis and Streptococcus pyogenes.
Viruses such as respiratory syncytial
Certain health problems increase the likelihood that a child will develop middle ear infections. For example, children with breathing disorders such as asthma have more ear infections than healthy children. The same is true of those with allergies and sinusitis.
Children with more complicated medical problems, such as Down's syndrome, cleft palate, or illnesses that suppress the immune system, are also at higher risk for ear infections.
The incidence of ear infections has been on the rise in the U.S., in part because of the way many families live. Lifestyle risk factors for middle ear infections include the following:
- Attendance in day care centers (where young children are exposed to the respiratory infections that often happen before an ear infection)
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Formula-feeding (because formula does not provide the immune-system protection present in mother's milk)
- Baby's position during bottle-feeding (because eustachian tubes do not function as well when your baby is lying flat while sucking, compared to when he is held with his head up )
- Pacifiers (because sucking may increase production of saliva, which serves as a vehicle for bacteria that can travel up the eustachian tubes to the middle ear)
Preventing ear infections
Although they are not foolproof, there are certain steps you can take to help prevent ear infections:
How To Information:
Warding off ear infections when your child has a cold
Children who get ear infections frequently when they have a cold can take the following precautions: