Ear Infections in Babies Dramatically Decreasing

April 11th 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor

Retail clinicians will be relieved to hear that ear infections, one of the most common childhood infections and a leading cause for acute clinic visits, are on the decline.

Retail clinicians will be relieved to hear that ear infections, one of the most common childhood infections and a leading cause for acute clinic visits, are on the decline.

A recent study published inPediatricsfound that the rate of ear infections, also known as acute otitis media (AOM), among babies in their first year of life has decreased dramatically.

The study’s investigators followed a total of 367 babies from 1 month of age through their first birthday. The researchers also gathered the infants’ family history concerning ear infections, cigarette smoke exposure, and information about whether they were breastfed.

They regularly obtained nose and throat mucus samples to identify infections, and parents alerted the study team when their infants had symptoms of either AOM or upper respiratory infection. In such cases, a physician affiliated with the study was dispatched to the infant’s home within 5 days.

Compared with similar studies conducted in the late 1980s and 1990s, ear infection rates in this population decreased from 18% to 6% in 3-month-olds, from 39% to 23% in 6-month-olds, and from 62% to 46% in 1-year-olds.

Lead study author Tasnee Conmaitree, MD, professor in the pediatrics department at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said these declines are largely linked to higher breastfeeding raters, lower smoking rates, and greater immunization rates.

“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,” Dr. Chonmaitree said in a press release. “…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.”

Nevertheless, clinicians should inform parents about other proven AOMrisk factorsfor children of all ages, which include the following.

Patient Factors

  • Premature or low birth weight
  • Young age
  • Early onset of ear infections
  • Compromised immune system
  • Familial history
  • Craniofacial abnormalities
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • History of allergies and/or upper respiratory tract infections

Environmental Factors

  • Day care attendance
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Pacifier use
  • Prolonged bottle use
  • Fall and winter months

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