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Recurrent ear infections and day care

Tammy’s 9-month old daughter frequently gets ear infections, and the last three occurred in one month. Her doctor advised Tammy to take her daughter out of day care, even though she only spends about four hours a week there. “I work part-time and need someone to take care of my daughter until my husband gets home,” says Tammy. “Is it true that recurrent ear infections may be caused by day care?” Let’s look at the causes of ear infections and see if Tammy should find another setting for her daughter.

Mother looking into baby's ear

What is an ear infection?

Otitis media, commonly called a middle ear infection, is an inflammation of your child’s inner ear canal (the part behind the eardrum). Ear infections most commonly occur when children are between the ages of 6 months to 2 years.

What causes an ear infection?

The middle ear is drained by a small tube (the Eustachian tube) into the nose. This tube is more likely to become stopped up in children because it is more horizontal (and children also spend more time horizontally), which may lead to an infection. Colds and occasionally allergies may “stop up the drain” even more, and ear infections commonly follow colds. Other factors that seem to cause an increase in ear infections include exposure to cigarette smoke, lack of breastfeeding, use of pacifiers, a history of ear infections in parents or siblings and, of course, the usual suspect — day care.

Day care and children’s health

Children in day care tend to have more infections of any kind in general, simply because most infections and viruses are spread most easily at this age. Toddlers and infants are touching and handling everything and placing fingers in their mouths, and even with the best hand-washing techniques it is hard to control the spread of germs.

It is hard to predict what effect taking a child out of day care will have on getting ear infections. It may help tremendously. On the other hand, if a child is genetically prone to ear infections or continues to be exposed to smoke, for instance, she may continue to get ear infections even when she is removed from day care.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician

Many working parents like Tammy do not have a choice whether they send their child to day care. If your child is in day care and experiencing recurrent ear infections, the decision to withdraw her from this child-care arrangement should be a thoughtful one involving a discussion with your child’s pediatrician.

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