Reducing the Risk of Middle Ear Infections

Woman helping girl wash hands in bathroom.Most children have had at least one middle ear infection by the age of 2. Treatment may depend on whether the problem is acute or chronic. It also depends on how often it comes back and how long it lasts.

Reducing risk factors

Some behaviors or surroundings increase your child’s risk of ear infection. Reducing such risk factors can be helpful at any point in treatment. The tips below may help:

  • If your child goes to group daycare, he or she runs a greater risk of getting colds or flu. This may then lead to an ear infection. Help prevent these illnesses by teaching your child to wash his or her hands often.

  • If your child has nasal allergies, do your best to control dust, mold, mildew, and pet hair in the house. Also stop or greatly limit your child’s contact with secondhand smoke.

  • If food allergies are a problem, identify the food that triggers the reaction. Help your child avoid it.

Watching and waiting

Sometimes it is better to proceed with caution in the following ways:

  • If your child is diagnosed with an ear infection, the healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics and will suggest a period of “watchful waiting.” This means not filling any prescriptions right away. Instead of antibiotics, a trial of medicines to relieve symptoms including those for pain or fever, is advised. This is along with waiting some time to see if a child improves without antibiotic therapy. Whether or not your healthcare provider prescribes immediate antibiotics or a period of watchful waiting depends on your child's age and risk factors.

  • During this time, your child should be watched to see if his or her symptoms are improving and to make sure new symptoms, such as fever or vomiting, don't develop. If a child doesn't improve within a few days or develops new symptoms, antibiotics will usually be started.