A recent report shows that ear infections in children have dropped by nearly 30 percent in the last decade and a half. While breastfeeding advocates — who have long claimed breastfeeding lowers incidents of ear infections — will likely credit the rise of the breastfeeding rate by U.S. mothers (the Centers for Disease Control says currently approximately 75% of mothers at least breastfeed early postpartum), Harvard researchers say it’s the decline in smoking by adults.
Others, like ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, tells the Associated Press that the cause is far from certain, saying, “We’re sort of guessing here.”
Rosenfeld added that the large increase in ear infections between 1975-1990 stemmed from the increase in both parents working outside the home, and more children being placed in daycare centers — which every working parent knows can be a cesspool of infectious germs, some of which cause ear infections.
The CDC states that the rate of U.S. nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke has plummeted from 88 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2008. It’s these numbers a Harvard University study points to, and Dr. Gordon Hughes of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders was quoted as saying, “Cigarette smoke, inhaled through a child’s nose, can trigger the same kind of irritation and swelling [as a cold would].”
The question is far from answered, however, as anecdotal cases showing the opposite abound, such as the Willis family in North Carolina, who the AP profiles as a non-smoking, vaccinated, breastfeeding household whose two young children have had 14 ear infections between them. Vanessa Willis tells the AP:
“I remember spending many nights on the couch sitting straight up, holding him against my chest. That’s a miserable thing for working parents.”
While ear infections are on the decline, they are not going to go completely away anytime soon. The CDC says there are still 12.5 million medical visits each year for children ages 6 and under to be treated for ear infections.