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Understanding Ear Infections -- the Basics

What Causes an Ear Infection? continued...

Among the bacteria most often found in infected middle ears are the same varieties responsible for many cases of sinusitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (ear, nose, and throat physicians), the conjugate pneumococcal vaccine is very effective against several strains of the most common bacteria that cause ear infections. This vaccine is routinely given to infants and toddlers to prevent meningitis, pneumonia, and blood infections. Your child’s doctor should advise you on the use of this vaccine, which may help to prevent at least some ear infections.

Ear infections occur in various patterns. A single, isolated case is called an acute ear infection (acute otitis media). If the condition clears up but comes back as many as three times in a 6-month period (or four times in a single year), the person is said to have recurrent ear infections (recurrent acute otitis media). This usually indicates the Eustachian tube isn't working well. A fluid buildup in the middle ear without infection is termed otitis media with effusion, a condition where fluid stays in the ear because it is not well ventilated, but germs have not started to grow.

In recent years, scientists have identified the characteristics of people most likely to suffer recurrent middle ear infections: 

  • Males
  • Individuals with a family history of ear infections
  • Babies who are bottle-fed (breastfed babies get fewer ear infections)
  • Children in day care centers
  • People living in households with tobacco smokers
  • People with abnormalities of the palate, such as a cleft palate
  • People with poor immune systems or chronic respiratory diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 09, 2014

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