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Risk Factors for Ear Infections or Otitis Media

Ear infections, or otitis media, are most common in children, but can also occur in teens and adults. Children have a greater risk for ear infections if they are:

  • In daycare
  • Bottle fed
  • Exposed to second- or third-hand cigarette smoke, or
  • Exposed to individuals with respiratory infections

Other risk factors may include:

  • Genetic factors, such as susceptibility to infection that may run in families
  • Recent illness of any type that lowers the body’s resistance to infection
  • Toothaches or teething
  • Birth defects, cleft palate, or Down syndrome, or
  • Malformation of the outer ear, ear canal, or middle ear structures

An ear infection usually causes some conductive hearing loss because of the increased fluid in the middle ear, as well as eardrum thickening. As a result, the sound vibrations that travel through the middle ear are reduced. This hearing loss usually goes away once the fluid is gone.

Hearing loss is measured in decibels. A loss of 30 decibels or more may indicate a need for pressure equalization tubes, or PE tubes. Long-term hearing loss can result in speech or learning disabilities.