The best way to prevent ear infections is to prevent colds and flu. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that all children receive the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) and an annual flu shot.
Influenza ("Flu") Vaccine
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend annual influenza vaccination for all children over 6 months of age. Preventing the flu (influenza) is an important protective measure against ear infections.
Flu vaccines are typically given by injection, usually between October and December. The earlier your child receives the vaccine, the earlier the immunity to the flu will take effect. It usually takes about 2 weeks for antibodies to the influenza virus to develop. These antibodies provide protection against the virus.
An intranasal vaccine called FluMist is approved for children ages 2 years and older. FluMist is made from a live but weakened influenza virus; flu shots use inactivated (not live) viruses. Children younger than 2 years old, and children younger than age 5 who have asthma or recurrent wheezing, should not receive FluMist.
Side effects of the flu shot are generally mild but may include soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever, or body aches. These side effects usually go away on their own within a few days.
Side effects of the nasal flu vaccine in children can include runny nose, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.
Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) protects against 13 of the most important strains of S. pneumoniae that cause pneumococcal meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia, and other respiratory infections. It also protects against many of the bacteria that cause middle ear infections.
PCV13 is specifically approved to help prevent invasive pneumococcal disease and otitis media. The recommended schedule of pneumococcal immunization is four doses, one each given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age.
Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine are usually mild, but may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Soreness at the injection site
Cold and flu viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These viruses can also be transmitted by shaking hands. Everyone should always wash their hands before eating and after going outside. Ordinary soap is sufficient. Waterless hand cleansers that contain an alcohol-based gel are also effective. Antibacterial soaps add little protection, particularly against viruses. Wiping surfaces with a solution that contains one part bleach to 10 parts water is very effective in killing viruses.
Breastfeeding offers protection against many early infections, including ear infections. Mother's milk provides immune factors that help protect the child from infections. Also, infants are held during breastfeeding in a position that allows the Eustachian tubes to function well.
If possible, new mothers should breastfeed their infants for at least 4 to 6 months. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, exclusively breastfeeding for a baby's first 6 months helps to prevent ear and other respiratory infections. For bottle-fed babies, to improve protection do not lay the baby down with the bottle ("bottle propping"). Hold the infant in the same way you would to breastfeed.
Avoiding Exposure to Cigarette Smoke
No one should smoke around children. Studies indicate that children who live with smokers have a significantly increased risk for ear infections.