Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are one of the most common childhood medical problems. Ear infections are the most frequent cause of doctor visits for children. In fact, three out of four children in the United States will have at least one ear infection by the time they reach the age of three.
Causes of Ear Infections
While ear infections can occur in any of the three parts of the ear, they most commonly develop in the middle ear. Ear infections are caused when fluid builds up behind the eardrum in the Eustachian tubes, the tubes that connect the ears to the nose. This moist environment is conducive to the rapid growth of bacteria which result in the infection. Occasionally, although ear infections are usually caused by bacteria, viruses or allergies may be the underlying factor.
Since children's Eustachian tubes are narrower and shorter than those of adults, children are more likely to develop ear infections. In fact, ear infections are relatively rare in adults.
Risk Factors for Ear Infections
Certain individuals are predisposed to ear infections by heredity or anatomy. Feeding position can also be a risk factor as babies who are bottle-fed tend to develop more ear infections than breastfed babies. Children in group child care may be more likely to develop ear infections simply because they are exposed to more children who may be sick. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to develop ear infections, as are children with weakened immune systems or allergies or those who use a pacifier.