Ear infections in infants are very common and can be quite unsettling for parents. The good news is that ear infections among U.S. babies are declining according to a new study.
Researchers found that 46 percent of babies followed between 2008 and 2014 had a middle ear infection by the time they were 1 year old. While that percentage may seem high, it was lower when compared against U.S. studies from the 1980s and '90s, the researchers added. Back then, around 60 percent of babies had suffered an ear infection by their first birthday, the study authors said.
The decline is not surprising, according to lead researcher Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston.
"This is what we anticipated," she said.
That's in large part because of a vaccine that's been available in recent years: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, Chonmaitree said. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against several strains of pneumococcal bacteria, which can cause serious diseases like pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections.
Those bacteria are also one of the major causes of children's middle ear infections, Chonmaitree said.
She added that flu shots, which are now recommended for children starting at 6 months, could be helping as well. Many times an ear infection will follow a viral infection such as the flu or a cold.
Vaccinations "could very well be one of the drivers" behind the decline in infant ear infections, agreed Dr. Joseph Bernstein, a pediatric otolaryngologist who wasn't involved in the study.
Other factors could be having a positive impact as well, such as rising rates of breast-feeding and a decrease in babies’ exposure to secondhand smoke.
"The data really do suggest that breast-feeding -- particularly exclusive breast-feeding in the first six months of life -- helps lower the risk of ear infections," said Bernstein, who is director of pediatric otolaryngology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, in New York City.
There's also the fact that breast-fed babies are less likely to spend time drinking from a bottle while lying down, Bernstein noted. That position can make some infants more vulnerable to ear infections, he said.
The study findings were based on 367 babies followed during their first year of life. By the age of 3 months, 6 percent had been diagnosed with a middle ear infection; by the age of 12 months, that had risen 46 percent, researchers found.
Breast-fed babies had a lower ear infection risk, however. Those who'd been exclusively breast-fed for at least three months were 60 percent less likely to develop an ear infection in their first six months, the study showed.
But whether babies are breast-fed or not, they will benefit from routine vaccinations, Chonmaitree said. "Parents should make sure they're on schedule with the recommended vaccines," she said.
Parents can have a difficult time recognizing an ear infection in an infant or a child to young to tell them that their ear hurts.
Some symptoms to watch for are:
· Tugging at the ear
· Crying more than usual
· Child becomes more upset when lying down
· Difficulty sleeping
· Diminished appetite
· Pus or fluid draining from ear
Treatment for ear infections rarely requires medication, such as antibiotics, except when an infection is severe or in infants.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most children with middle ear infections get better without antibiotics, and doctors often recommend pain relievers -- like acetaminophen -- to start. But with babies, Bernstein said, antibiotics are often used right away.
The AAP recommends antibiotics for infants who are 6 months old or younger, and for older babies and toddlers who have moderate to severe ear pain.
The study was published online in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics.
Story source: Amy Norton, http://www.webmd.com/children/news/20160328/infant-ear-infections-becoming-less-common