Although you can reduce your (or your child’s) risk of developing ear infections, you may not be able to prevent them entirely. However, there are things you can do in your daily life and in caring for your children that may reduce the risk of ear infections.

To reduce your children’s risk of ear infections:

Avoid Exposure to Cigarette Smoke or Smoke From Wood-burning Stoves

Cigarette smoke and smoke from wood-burning stoves irritate the mucous membranes and can make it easier for respiratory infections to travel to the middle ear. Try to quit smoking, but if you are unsuccessful, be sure that your children are not in the same room or car as a smoking adult. Try to avoid using a wood stove to heat your home. If you must use this form of heat, try to keep children away from the smoke.

Consider Breastfeeding Your Baby for at Least the First Six Months

Breast milk contains substances that are beneficial for your baby’s immune system and may help your child resist ear infections. In addition, breast milk is less likely than formula to trigger an allergic reaction that could increase the risk of ear infection.

If You Bottlefeed Your Baby, Keep Your Baby’s Head as Upright as Possible

Never lie your baby down flat in bed with a bottle. In this position, fluid is more likely to fill the eustachian tubes. Try to hold your baby in an upright position or use one of the newer angled bottles.

Reduce Exposure to Environmental Factors That Trigger Allergic Reactions

The mucous membranes of children with allergies or asthma are more likely to become swollen, which reduces fluid drainage from the eustachian tubes. In some children, allergies are associated with prolonged or recurrent ear infections. In these children, exposure to environmental allergens, such as pet dander, increases mucus production and may lead to ear infections. If your child is allergic to a pet, try to find the animal a new home. If other environmental allergies are confirmed by your child's doctor, use foam pillows instead of feather or down, and try to wash bedding frequently in hot water. Avoid carpets in the bedroom if possible, and get rid of stuffed animals or keep them in a closet.

Try to Avoid Using a Pacifier or Use One Only When Your Child Goes to Sleep

Children who use pacifiers continuously are more likely to develop ear infections than those who use them only when going to sleep. Avoid using a pacifier or try to wean your child from the pacifier by the time he or she is one year old. If you are unsuccessful, set rules for when the pacifier can be used. Wash the pacifier and/or replace it frequently, especially after a cold , sore throat , or other respiratory infection.

Make Sure That Your Child Receives All Recommended Immunizations and Consider a Yearly Flu Vaccine

Keep your child up to date on all immunizations. This can be difficult, especially when a child has repeated respiratory or ear infections that can interfere with the immunization schedule. Consider including the pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) as well as a yearly flu vaccine—especially for children with asthma or other chronic health conditions or those who attend daycare centers.

Use Good HandwashingTechniques and Other Practices to Avoid Spreading Germs

Wash your hands frequently, and teach your children to do the same, especially after blowing their noses. If your child chews on toys or puts them in his mouth, keep those toys separate and wash them thoroughly before they are played with again. Teach your children to cover their mouths with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and to throw the tissue away immediately.

If your child snores, consult a physician to check for enlarged adenoids.

The adenoids are tonsil-like structures located in the back of the nose, invisible to normal methods of examination of either the nose or throat. When adenoids are large, children tend to mouth-breathe, and they may snore at night. Many children with enlarged adenoids have a “nasal” sounding voice because of obstruction. The eustachian tubes open into the nose very close to the adenoids, and their opening may be blocked when adenoids are enlarged. Blocked eustachian tubes are among the causes of chronic middle ear infection

What About Daycare?

For most families today, there are few, if any, alternatives to group care. Daycare has some health risks, but it may also have significant and lasting health benefits.

Children who go to daycare in the first year or two of life are more likely to develop ear infections because they catch more frequent viral infections from other kids. However, daycare may have health benefits, as well. Children in daycare may be less likely to eventually develop asthma and other allergic conditions—especially if their mothers do not have asthma.