Rates of Ear Infections Decline Due to Breastfeeding, Vaccines

(Photo: Clinical Advisor)

(Photo: Clinical Advisor)

Most parents are familiar with the trials of having a young one with an ear infection. From the pain to the crying nights, ear infections are stressful and all too common during a youngster's first two years.

CNN's Carina Storrs writes that the number of infants' ear infections has gone down over the past two decades, and a new study suggests that vaccines and breastfeeding may be two reasons why babies are being spared the torture of this particular malady.

The study watched over 300 infants from less than one month old to 12 months, with the researchers attempting to pin down the factors that impact ear infection. Their range of determinants included bacteria and viruses in the nose and throat, cigarette smoke exposure, and whether or not the baby was breastfed.

While the study was progressing, the researchers reported 46% of the children suffered from an ear infection by the time they were one year old. This rate was less than that found in studies during the 1980s and 1990s. The findings during these decades showed that roughly 60% of kids had developed an ear infection in their first year.

"For parents, it's good news that the most common disease in infants and young children has come down," said Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Chonmaitree is lead author of the study, which was published Monday in Pediatrics.

Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, director of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the study, suggests some actions parents can take to reduce the risk if ear infections in their young ones. He advises that children receive the Prevnar 13 pneumococcal vaccine, the flu vaccine when they are recommended, that mothers attempt to breastfeed exclusively during the first six months, and that parents avoid secondhand smoke.

The current study worked with infants in the Galveston, Texas area, while the older bodies of research were performed in other regions of the US. Chonmaitree believes her study is a good representation of the decline in rates of ear infections in babies across the nation.

More children visit their pediatricians for ear infections than for any other health problem. These infections are also the most common reason antibiotics are prescribed for kids and for children to undergo surgeries.

According to the study, breastfeeding can protect babies from ear infections. Those infants who were breastfed for at least six months were 63% less apt to have ear infections. Chonmaitree said the reason for this could be that the antibodies in breast milk help fight the young person's infections.

Dr. Alfred Casale, chair of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute and co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for Geisinger Health System, explains in an article for Civitas Media that the Eustachian tubes are small tunnels that travel from the "upper back of the throat, behind the nose and into each ear behind the eardrums." The tubes equalize the pressure on the two sides of the eardrum.

When children have bouts with a cold, the flu, or respiratory infections, the tubes close off and germs and fluids behind the eardrum, where the pathology has developed, cause painful swelling. When children have recurring ear infections, tubes can be implanted to assist with drainage.

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