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Ear Infection in 61% of Kids' Colds

Tots Under Age 3 Get 5 Colds per Year, Most With Otitis Media
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 14, 2008 -- Kids under age 3 get five colds a year -- and 61% of the time, they get ear infections, too.

The finding comes from a study of 294 healthy children aged 6 months to 3 years. Each child was followed for one year by Tasnee Chonmaitree, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and colleagues.

Chonmaitree and colleagues found that day-care kids got more than six colds a year; those cared for at home got five. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 months got about twice as many colds as did children between the ages of age 2 and 3 years.

More than half of children who get colds -- 61% -- come down with otitis media, infection of the middle ear. About a quarter of the time, this infection has no symptoms, but the child has a buildup of fluid inside the ear.

Fortunately, the risk of getting an ear infection after a cold drops quickly with age.

"For every month older a child gets, she or he has a 4% lower risk of getting otitis media after a cold," Chonmaitree tells WebMD. "So an 8-month-old child has 8% less chance of otitis media after a cold than that same child had at age 6 months."

Chonmaitree finds that ear infections are most likely to occur after colds in children aged 6 months to 18 months. She suggests that parents should try to avoid sending children this age to day care.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Pascal Chavanet, MD, of University Hospital, Dijon, France, takes issue with this recommendation.

"The expectation that ill children can be kept out of day care centers or that home care can be provided for children until at least 1 year of age raises very difficult socioeconomic barriers," Chavanet suggests.

The Chonmaitree study, and the Chavanet editorial, appear in the March 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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