Does your child seem to get one ear infection after another? Recurrent ear infections can take their toll on young children by interfering with hearing and speech development. Knowing the potential causes and focusing on prevention will help keep those little ears in the clear.

Worried that your child seems to get one ear infection after another? If so, you're not alone. Many children suffer from recurrent ear infections and many will undergo tympanostomy (placement of a tube in the ear drum) in order to prevent complications — particularly speech and hearing problems.

So, why are some children more prone to ear infections?

Risk factors

  • Short eustachian tubes (tube that connects the inner ear to the back of the nose). Children with shorter tubes tend to not drain mucus as well, following an upper respiratory infection. Thankfully, as the child grows, so do the eustachian tubes, decreasing the prevalence of ear infections.
  • Craniofacial abnormalities such as cleft palate/lip.
  • Children with Down syndrome are more prone to ear infections due to shorter/narrower eustachian tubes and thicker mucus, making drainage more difficult.
  • Attendance of daycare early on in life.
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Children who have allergies (both environmental and food related).
  • Prolonged and frequent pacifier use (interferes with eustachian tube function).
  • Reflux in infants and children can also lead to recurrent and/or chronic ear infections.

Prevention: Focus on what you can do

  • Don't expose your child to second-hand smoke.
  • Breastfeed for as long as possible.
  • Get your child vaccinated.
  • If your child has environmental, seasonal or food allergies, be sure to treat those and avoid the offending allergens.
  • If you suspect GERD in your child, discuss with your healthcare provider.
  • Limit pacifier use to nap and bedtime only, particularly if your child is suffering from recurrent ear infections.

Dr. Mom's BOttom Line^ Knowing the potential causes of your child's recurring ear infections is an essential part of prevention. However, some children will simply be prone to them no matter what. In those cases, placement of ear tubes is an essential part of treatment and prevention of complications.

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