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Reducing the Risk for Middle Ear Infections

Most children have had at least one middle ear infection by age 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

Woman helping girl wash hands in bathroom.
Good handwashing can help your child prevent ear infections.

Some behaviors or things raise your child’s risk for an ear infection. Reducing these risks can be helpful at any point in treatment. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your child knows how to wash his or her hands the right way. This includes washing hands often with soap and water. Your child can use a hand sanitizer when needed.

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

  • Also keep your child away from crowds during cold and flu season.

  • Tell your child to stay away from secondhand smoke and other irritants. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home.

  • If your child has nasal allergies, do your best to control dust, mold, mildew, and pet hair and dander in the house.

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

  • Make sure your child is up-to-date on all vaccines.

In your child's first year of life, you can also reduce the risk of ear infections by:

  • Breastfeeding for at least 3 months

  • Not giving your child a pacifier after 6 months of age

Watching and waiting

If your child is diagnosed with an ear infection, the healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics right away or suggest a period of “watchful waiting.” This means not filling the prescription right away. Instead, you will first try medicines to ease your child’s symptoms, such as those for pain or a fever. You’ll then wait to see if your child gets better.

If your child doesn't get better within a few days or develops new symptoms, such as a fever or vomiting, antibiotics will often be started. Whether or not your child's healthcare provider prescribes antibiotics right away or advises a period of watchful waiting depends on your child's age and risk factors.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: John Hanrahan MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2020
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.