Ear infections in children under 3 years of age are quite common; 75% of children will have an ear infection and about 1/2 of them will go on to have repeated ear infections.
Babies and toddlers are at higher risk for ear infections because of their naive immune system, anatomy, and exposure to viruses and bacteria at daycares and schools.
The Eustachian tube – the tube that drains and ventilates the middle ear to the back of the nose – is shorter and more horizontal than in adults making drainage of fluid more difficult for children.
Children with cleft palate, Down syndrome, or allergies are even at higher risk for recurrent ear infections. When the Eustachian tube becomes swollen, say from a cold, the fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear; stagnant fluid becomes infected causing an ear infection called otitis media.
Tips to prevent ear infections:
• Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding passes on immunity, preventing ear infections. Breastfed babies have a lower rate of ear infections.
• Do not smoke around your child: second hand smoking increases the risk of ear infections by 50% . If you smoke outside the house, leave your smoking jacket outside, away from your baby.
• No bottle in bed: Feed your baby or toddler sitting up, this prevents fluid and bacteria from the mouth from creeping up into the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear decreasing the risk of ear infections.
• Hand Washing: Encouraging children and adults to wash their hands helps reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, especially after being in public places. For babies, limiting exposure to crowded places and keeping your baby away from people who are sick will also decrease the risk of ear infections.
• Saline nasal drops: Studies have showed that daily use of saline nasal drops in children significantly decreases the risk of ear infections.
• Pressure Equalizing tubes: For a child who has recurrent ear infections, your family doctor may refer your child to an Otolaryngologist (Ear Nose and Throat Specialist) who may recommend Pressure Equalizing tubes for your child to prevent additional ear infections.
Dr. N. Yammine MD MSc FRCSC
Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Laryngology