Family Health Guide

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Ear Infections: Prevention

Since the colds and flu that cause ear infections are contagious, there are some preventive steps you can take.

  • Try not to let infants and toddlers share toys that they put in their mouth, and, when possible, keep kids away from others with colds, flu, or sore throats.
  • Keep babies from lying down with a bottle -- liquid can pool inside the eustachian tube, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of the elbow.
  • Insist that children and caregivers wash hands often.
  • When practical, look for smaller daycare settings. Doctors say that groups of fewer than seven kids tend to have fewer infections.
  • As always, make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids and gets adequate rest.
  • Breastfeed for at least 3 months. Several studies have confirmed that breastfeeding may help protect a baby from illness due to the immune-boosting components of breast milk.
  • Limit pacifiers. A study found that babies who didn't use pacifiers had one-third fewer middle ear infections. If your baby loves his, try giving it only at naptime and bedtime.
  • Steer clear of secondhand smoke. Kids who are exposed to cigarette smoke get more ear infections; it irritates mucous membranes and damages tiny hairs in the middle ear.
  • Stay up-to-date with vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar (recommended for all healthy children under 2), mainly prevents bacterial meningitis, but also guards against seven strains of ear infection-causing bacteria. (Babies typically get four shots, between 2 and 15 months.) Prevnar has also been shown to decrease the need for ear tubes by about 20 percent in children with recurrent AOM. The influenza vaccine may also prevent some cases of AOM, since infection with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or influenza virus makes a child more susceptible.