Preventing Ear Infections in Kids: 8 Ways That Work ​

ear infectionEar infections. If you've got a child, no doubt you've dealt with at least one. After all -- three out of four kids in America will have at least one case before age 3. Scary statistic? You better believe it.

"Many experts (and parents) believe ear infections are on the rise, possibly the result of increased day care attendance at younger ages and increased allergen exposure," notes Dr. Jennifer Gardner, the pediatrician and mom behind the Healthy Kids Company. While Gardner notes other experts say immunizations and increased focus on breastfeeding is bringing down the number of ear infections, contradicting moms' beliefs, ear infections remain "the number one reason for non-wellness doctor visits in babies and toddlers."

Don't want to end up in the pediatrician's office with a miserable tot? Here are pediatricians' best tips to try to prevent ear infections:

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1. Keep the ears dry! Ear infections are split into two types -- otitis media and otitis externa. The latter is also known as "swimmer's ear," and the risk is increased by moisture. Gardner recommends drying the ear with a clean towel after swimming and bathing, and using a hair dryer set on low (be sure to hold the dryer at least 12 inches from the ear) to help prevent it.

2. Rinse the ears with a 1:1 mixture of alcohol:vinegar. Another trick to prevent otitis externa, the alcohol dries the ear and the vinegar acidifies the ear. It should NOT be done if the child has an active ear infection or tubes in place, Gardner warns.

3. Avoid pacifiers. "Some studies have shown increase risk of ear infections with pacifier use," explains Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, pediatrician at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and creator of the Baby Bundle parenting app. "It may be because of the sucking or maybe germs on the pacifier itself." If baby is prone to ear infections, it may be time to ditch the binky to keep them from coming back.

4. Don't prop baby's bottle. Not only does this present a choking hazard, but Trachtenberg warns it has been noted as a risk factor for ear infections.

5. Avoid cotton-tipped applicators. "The adage 'put nothing in your ear smaller than your elbow' is sage advice for preventing external ear infections," says Dr. Gardner.

6. Don't smoke. Not only is it bad for a child's lungs, but Dr. Trachtenberg says you can "decrease the risk" for ear infections by avoiding cigarette smoke.

7. Breastfeed. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months has been tied to a reduction in infections in the upper respiratory, lower respiratory, and gastrointestinal tracts in infancy. And yes, that includes ear infections!

8. Avoid sick kids. "Ear infections are caused by germs/infections," explains Dr. Trachtenberg. "The causative agent can be viral or bacterial." Got that? It's not going out in the cold that's getting your kid sick -- it's actual germs! Sometimes they're completely unavoidable, but if you have a kid who is prone to ear infections, you have the perfect excuse to tell your friends you're not being overprotective ... your kid is really at risk!

Have your kids had ear infections? What did your pediatrician recommend doing to prevent a recurrence?

 

Image via © Ale Ventura/PhotoAlto/Corbis

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