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Childhood Ear Infections Declining

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The number of young kids’ doctor visits for ear infections has dropped a whopping 30 percent over the last 15 years, according to a new study out of Harvard University, published in the journal Tobacco Control.
Plus: Complete Guide to Ear Infection Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

The researchers behind the study hypothesize that three key factors are behind the drop, according to the Associated Press:

  • a decline in the number of adults who smoke, which results in less secondhand smoke for kids and therefore less irritation of their airways, which can trigger ear inflammation as a prelude to ear infections
  • the growing use of the Prevnar vaccine, which protects against strep bacteria that can cause ear infections
  • an increase in the rate of breastfeeding, where breast milk rich in antibodies may help to lower infants’ risk for respiratory and middle ear infections

Plus: Ask Dr. Sears: Air Travel After an Ear Infection

The decline in cases of otitis media (middle ear infections) follows a period of dramatic rise in the number of ear infections, from 1975-1990, when the visit rate to doctors for ear infections in kids 5 and under doubled. That rise is thought to have been caused by secondhand smoke (the CDC reports that 88 percent of U.S. nonsmokers were exposed to secondhand smoke around 1990—a number which had dropped in 2007 and 2008 to about 40 percent) and the rise in dual-career families, which led a growing number of children to enter daycare, where germs spread easily.
Plus: Kids Health Q&A: Baby Ear Tubes

Of course, there are plenty of smoke-free, breastfeeding-friendly households where kids and their anxious parents are still plagued by the intense pain of ear infections, and doctors have yet to find all of the answers, but for anyone who has stayed up through the night with a child shrieking in pain from such an infection, this news is welcomed with open arms (and ears).

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