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Raising the Risk for Ear Infections: February 24, 2012

As the mother of two busy toddlers, Kathy Rickstrom has her hands full everyday, but it’s double trouble when one of the kids has an ear infection.

“It’s pretty bad. I mean it’s hard on the parents but it’s more so hard on the kids. Just because their little ears hurt and they don’t sleep at night and they don’t want to eat.”

Young children under the age of four are most likely to get ear infections, partly because of the underdeveloped anatomy in their ear.

“As an adult the drainage tube for your ear system is much more vertical and up and down, so gravity helps you. And for babies it’s more flat and it just doesn’t work very well,” says Dr. Eric Jones, a pediatrician on the medical staff of the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

New research suggests environmental factors also play a role. One of the biggest findings was the correlation between second hand smoke and ear infections.

“The chemicals that are in second hand smoke and then the smoke itself tend to slow down the normal drainage and clearance system that your body uses to get rid of debris which then puts you at risk for collecting fluid. At which then puts you at risk for growing bacteria,” says Dr. Jones.

Parents may be contributing to high-risk behavior. It has to do with the way they, or the child, holds their bottle.

It’s always one of the things we ask about in kids who have recurring infections. ‘Are they bottle-fed?’ and ‘how are you feeding them, do they feed upright or do you prop them in their seat?’ They should be about 30 to 45 degrees when they’re fed - more of an angle with an arm basically, or sitting on a lap so that they’re upright,” says Dr. Jones.

Lying flat or too far reclined puts pressure on the ear and keeps it from draining. Another risk factor is day care attendance. Children get more infections when they’re exposed to more germs.

“A big thing actually that I do even at the playground or anywhere that they go publicly I immediately wipe off their hands with disinfecting wipes,” says Kathy.

It’s a matter of changing the habits you can control like smoking and improper feeding and arming yourself against those you can’t.

“With hand sanitizer and trying not to catch colds,” says Dr. Jones.