Parents Have the Power to Reduce Ear Infection Rates

Ear aches seem to affect babies with alarming frequency—they're the most common infection in children—but a recent study indicates that two factors could help.

Parents Have the Power to Reduce Ear Infection Rates Galina Barskaya/Shutterstock

Here's something that'll make any new parent breathe a sigh of relief: You may be able to stop your baby from getting one of the most common infections in children, according to a recent study.

Declining rates

Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that rates of ear infections during a baby's first year have declined. They believe certain factors led to this—namely higher rates of breastfeeding and the administration of vaccines. Lower rates of smoking seemed to have been a factor as well.

In the study, led by Tasnee Chonmaitree, M.D., and published in Pediatrics, researchers compared the rates of ear infections they observed in babies to the findings from studies conducted in the late 1980s and 1990s and found something positive: Rates of ear infections in the three-month-olds dropped from 18 to 6 percent; from 39 to 23 percent in six-month-olds and from 62 to 46 percent in one-year-olds.

Researchers examined 367 babies between October 2008 and March 2014 from the time they were less than one-month-old up until the babies turned one. They also looked at family history of ear infections, cigarette smoke exposure and whether the babies were breast- or formula-fed.

Protecting your baby

Based on findings, researchers determined that breast milk and vaccinations seem to be protective of ear infections. This idea is important to consider, as ear infections are among the most prevalent infections in children. They may seem harmless enough, but ear infections are the most common reason children undergo surgery—they can also increase a child's likelihood of repeated infection later in life if they affect babies in the first six months.

"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 the study's release. "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."