Researchers aren’t sure why, but new national data suggest that fewer children around the country are suffering those ear infections that can be so painful for kids, and so frustrating for parents.
Dr. Mario Cruz said he wonders if efforts to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in recent years have resulted in fewer ear infection diagnoses.
“If a parent came in with a child and a child had a cold, and a fever and ear pain, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics without looking at the ear. Nowadays we are a lot more strict about actually looking at the ear drum and confirming that it’s an infection before we make the diagnosis,” he said.
A study from researchers at Harvard University found that the ear infection rate across the country has dropped about 30 percent in the last 15 years.
Breast milk has antibodies that can protect against infections, while cigarette smoke can irritate nasal passages and lead to mucus buildup.
Nationwide, more kids are breastfed and fewer are exposed to secondhand smoke, but Cruz said things are little different in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where he is a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
“It’s a very impoverished neighborhood, we have very, very low rates of breastfeeding and very high rates of second-hand smoke exposure,” he said. “So I think that that combination has a lot to do with, from my perspective, the ear infection rate not changing at all.”
Dr. David Pollack, a pediatrician affiliated with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said the introduction of new vaccines and efforts in schools and day care centers may have helped slow the spread of infection.
“A lot of hand-washing, trying to get kids outdoors a significant amount of the time, so they are not just congregating indoors, pooling the germs together,” said Pollack. “The more that kids are outdoors the less colds they get, and the less colds they get, the fewer infections they get.”
When the tube that connects the back of the nose to the ears fills up with fluid, that fluid can become infected. As the body tries to get rid of those bacteria, there is often a lot of swelling and pain. Children with ear infection can have trouble eating and sleeping, and that can be a big headache for parents trying to soothe a sick child.