How is otitis media (middle ear infection) prevented in adults and children?

There are ways to help prevent ear infections in children and adults. Often, changing the environment at home is all that is necessary, but sometimes surgery is needed, too.

If any of the following precautions apply to you or your child, follow them or talk to your doctor about them:

  • Avoid contact with second-hand tobacco smoke, also known as passive smoking. Passive smoking brings about more infections, and can cause more severe infections. Be sure no one smokes in your home or at a day care. No one should smoke in the house or car, especially when children are present.
  • Control allergies. Inflammation caused by allergies can cause ear infection, especially if you or your child have other allergies, such as eczema.
  • Reduce your child's exposure to colds during the first year of life. Most ear infections start with a cold. If possible, try to delay the use of large day care centers during the first year.
  • Breastfeed your baby during the first 6 to 12 months of life. Antibodies in breast milk reduce the rate of ear infections.
  • Avoid bottle propping. If you bottle feed, hold your baby at a 45-degree angle. Feeding in the horizontal position can cause formula and other fluids to flow back into the Eustachian tubes. Allowing an infant to hold his or her own bottle also can cause milk to drain into the middle ear. Weaning your baby from a bottle between 9 and 12 months of age will help stop this problem.
  • Watch for mouth breathing or snoring. Constant snoring or breathing through the mouth may be caused by large adenoids. These may contribute to ear infections. An exam by an otolaryngologist, and even surgery to remove the adenoids (adenoidectomy), may be necessary.
  • Immunizations: Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date, including yearly influenza vaccine (flu shot) for those six months and older. Preventing viral infections and other infections help prevent ear infections.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/08/2019.


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