How common is acute otitis media?

Acute otitis media is a very common early childhood illness. It affects three out of four children by the age of three years. That means 75 percent of all children in the United States will have been diagnosed with a middle ear infection before they even start school. Out of those children, half of them will experience recurrent episodes. Each year in the United States, about $5 billion is spent on medical bills and lost wages due to the incidence of otitis media. While the illness affects mostly children, adults can develop it too.
Otitis media (ear infection) is less common than it used to be.
In a study published in the April 2016 issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers followed 367 babies in their first year of life. They found that 6 percent had an ear infection by 3 months old, 23 percent by 6 months and 46 percent by a year. In the 1980s and 1990s, higher rates of ear infections were recorded: 18 percent of babies had an ear infection by 3 months, 30 to 39 percent by 6 months and 60 to 62 percent by a year.
In the 2016 study, the babies who got ear infections also had twice as many colds, revealing the connection between viruses and ear infections. Breast-feeding babies had fewer colds and ear infections than babies who were not breast-feeding, a finding that was consistent with many previous studies.
In addition to breast-feeding, researchers have pinpointed several other factors leading to the decline in ear infections:
  • new and better vaccines
  • a lower smoking rate among parents
  • tighter criteria for diagnosing an ear infection
This content originally appeared online at Baptist Health South Florida.

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