A new study from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston finds the rates of ear infections during a baby’s first year have declined; the investigators suggested that higher rates of breastfeeding, use of vaccinations, and lower rates of smoking may be the major contributors.
The study findings, published in the March 2016 edition of Pediatrics, found that rates of ear infection have dropped significantly since similar studies were conducted in the late 1980s and 1990s. According to the article, the rates of ear infection dropped from 18% to 6% in 3-month-old infants, from 39% to 23% in 6-month-olds, and from 62% to 46% in 1-year-olds.
From October 2008 to March 2014, a research team led by Tasnee Chonmaitree, MD, professor in the Department of Pediatrics, followed 367 babies, less than one month old through their first birthday. The researchers gathered information on family history of ear infections, cigarette smoke exposure, and breast versus formula feeding. They collected nose and throat mucus samples throughout the study to seek out and identify infections. Parents notified the study team whenever their baby had any signs of an ear infection or upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold. A study physician then saw the baby within five days.
“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,” said Chonmaitree. “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.”
Acute otitis media, or ear infection, is one of the most common childhood infections, the leading cause of visits to doctors by children, and the most common reason children take antibiotics or undergo surgery. Infants under six months old who have ear infections have an increased risk of having repeated ear infections later in life.