How to prevent ear infections

Kids and ear infections seem to be intrinsically linked, especially this time of year. That dreaded diagnosis from the doctor brings with it visions of a miserable child, trips to the pharmacy and sleepless nights. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent ear infections this cold/flu season.

Doctor looking in baby's ear

Hana Solomon, M.D., is a pediatrician, president of BeWell Health, LLC, and author of Clearing the Air, One Nose at a Time, Caring For Your Personal Filter. She is passionate about preventive care and has some unexpected suggestions to help you prevent ear infections.

Causes of ear infections

You’ve probably used the words “ear infection” countless times, but do you really know what causes one? According to Solomon, “Ear infections, which always begin in the nose, result when the nasal membranes develop excessive mucus and the drainage pipes (the nose, the sinus, the ears) fail to drain well.” Children are more prone to infections because the size and orientation of these drainage tubes make drainage difficult.

How to prevent ear infections

While it sometimes seems impossible to protect our kids from ear infections, Dr. Solomon says it really can be done. “It helps to breastfeed, stay away from large groups of children and avoid exposure to smoke, which incapacitates protective nose hairs,” she says. Ultimately, Dr. Solomon points to one unexpected method to prevent ear infections: nose washing. “Children who wash their nasal passages with hypertonic buffered salt water do not develop ear infections,” she says. “I’ve witnessed this over 25 years of medical practice and, finally, a number of studies support these findings.”

How to treat ear infections

The traditional treatment for ear infections is becoming increasingly unpopular. “The Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports not treating with antibiotics unless the child is very ill, feverish, or very young,” says Solomon. “Antibiotics can cause bacteria to develop resistance so it’s best to treat infections naturally by offering plenty of fluids, exposing kids to moisture (such as soothing baths) and, of course, nasal washing.”

Tips for fewer ear infections

Dr. Solomon offers the following tips to help keep your child’s ear infections to a minimum this year (or maybe do away with them altogether):

  • Avoid exposing your child to cigarette smoke.
  • Prevent allergies, adjust living environment for fewer allergens.
  • Provide healthy unprocessed foods for fewer allergies.
  • Keep the nose clean.
  • Avoid medications that dry and thicken the mucus, such as antihistamines.
  • Maintain hydration, avoiding sugary juices (teach your children to drink water).
  • Treat GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux) if it is present.
  • Apply warmed moist compresses to the outer ear for 20 minutes every few hours.
  • Work with your child’s medical provider so that your collaborative efforts will bring about the most effective and least invasive solutions.
  • If your child is getting worse, see your medical provider.

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