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Ear Infections - What Increases Your Risk

Some things that increase the risk for middle ear infection are out of your control. These include:

  • Age. Children ages 3 years and younger are most likely to get ear infections. Also, young children get more colds and other upper respiratory infections. Most children have at least one ear infection before they are 7 years old.
  • Birth defects or other medical conditions. Babies with cleft palate or Down syndrome are more likely to get ear infections.
  • Weakened immune system. Children with severely impaired immune systems have more ear infections than healthy children.
  • Family history. Children are more likely to have repeat middle ear infections if a parent or sibling had repeat ear infections.
  • Allergies. Allergies cause long-term stuffiness in the nose that can block one or both eustachian tubes, which connect the back of the nose and throat with the middle ears. This blockage can cause fluid to build up in the middle ear.

Other things that increase the risk for ear infection include:

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  • Repeat colds and upper respiratory infections. Most ear infections develop from these illnesses.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke. Babies who are around cigarette smoke are more likely to have ear infections than babies who are not. Also, ear infections seem to last longer in babies who are near cigarette smoke.
  • Bottle-feeding. Bottle-fed babies are more likely to develop ear infections within the first year of life than babies who are breast-fed. Also, bottle-fed babies may be more likely to get ear infections if they drink their bottles lying down rather than being held in an upright position.
  • Child care centers. Children who are around many other children, such as in child care centers, are more likely to have repeat ear infections.
  • Pacifier use. A young child who uses a pacifier is more likely to get ear infections.

Things that increase the risk for repeated ear infections also include:

  • Ear infections at an early age. Babies who have their first ear infection before 6 months of age are more likely to have other ear infections.
  • Persistent fluid in the ear. Fluid behind the eardrum that lasts longer than a few weeks after an ear infection increases the risk for repeated infection.
  • Prior infections. Children who had an ear infection within the previous 3 months are more likely to have another ear infection, especially if the infection was treated with antibiotics.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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