Ear Infections Linked to Asthma
Kids in Day Care May Be Especially Vulnerable
May 10, 2004 -- For young children, frequent ear infections may
mean an increased risk of developing asthma, a new report shows.
The skyrocketing prevalence of asthma has been attributed to
many factors: genetics, childhood infections, home environment, and
psychological problems. Several recent studies have pointed more directly to a
link with repeated infections in early childhood.
For example, "the incidence and the prevalence rates of ear
infections have increased significantly over the years, with a parallel rise in
asthma rates, particularly in developed countries," writes lead researcher
Kamal Eldeirawai, MS, an epidemiologist with the University of Illinois at
The study looking at this pattern appears in the May issue of
the journal Chest.
The nationwide study involved 7,538 white, black, and
Mexican-American children between 2 and 11 years old. Parents completed surveys
that asked about various health issues including asthma, wheezing, and ear
The researchers found:
- The more ear infections a child suffered, the greater the child's
likelihood of having asthma and wheezing.
Three or more ear infections meant twice the asthma risk
compared with no ear infections.
Children with ear infections also had more wheezing, even if
they were not diagnosed with asthma.
Children in day care had more ear infections.
"Our findings indicated a significant association between a
history of ear infections and ... wheezing," writes Eldeirawai. However,
not all children who wheeze have asthma, he points out.
One possible scenario: The same virus that repeatedly infects
the middle ear may play a major role in asthma or wheezing, he says. Or
antibiotics that are commonly prescribed to treat ear infections may trigger
the risk of asthma -- an angle not addressed in this study. Some studies have
also suggested that day care and large families help "immunize" a child
against asthma, writes Eldeirawai.
In his study, children of well-educated parents were more
likely to be enrolled in day care -- and more likely to have recurrent ear
infections, as this study also showed. Possibly, this is because they have
better health benefits and more knowledge about ear infections and asthma --
and are thus more likely to report it. He cautions that his study relies on
parents' memories, which can be flawed.