Ways To Prevent Ear Infections for Children and Adults

Adult holding baby while getting ear inspected for infection

The cold weather brings about an influx of bacteria and germs that inevitably increase the severity and exposure to illnesses. While not a direct result of the cold, medical cases of ear infections do rise in the autumn and winter months.

Many people incorrectly assume that children only need to worry about potential ear infections. However, while less likely, adults can also get ear infections, meaning that everyone should consider prevention strategies; although similarities exist, adults and children have varying concerns when it comes to ear protection.

Prevention for Children

Infections in children are more common than among adults for two reasons. First, children’s eustachian tubes, the passageways connecting the throat to the middle ear, are shorter and more horizontal than in adults, meaning that bacteria and viruses can travel more easily. 

Second, the tubes are narrower, making blockages more frequent.

Because of the more sensitive and less complicated nature of a child’s ear, they are unfortunately more susceptible to infections. Therefore following fundamental prevention strategies is paramount to protecting them from illness and discomfort. There are many strategies to enact as protection and preventives for children.

  • Clean, fresh air:
    Did you know that air pollution and cigarette smoke can increase the chances of your child getting an infection? Clean, fresh air is one of the best ways to reduce your child’s risks, but it is not always possible. You can purchase an air purifier for your home to help. Face coverings can also limit the number of pollutants making their way into your child’s nose, ears, and lungs which can be another positive about wearing masks in public.
  • Good hygiene:
    Get in the habit of washing your child’s hands (and your own) frequently. Maintaining clean hands and surfaces will reduce the risks of your baby catching a cold or the flu. Whenever possible, try to keep dirty toys or objects away from your baby’s mouth because this can also lead to infections. Granted, kids will be kids, and it will be nearly impossible to keep everything out of reach, but even some level of interference can make a significant difference.
  • Immunizations:
    The medical world is leaps-and-bounds ahead of where it was even a couple of decades ago. Immunizations protect your child against a range of typical and worrisome illnesses, helping to build a strong and robust immune system. It is helpful when parents stick to their doctor’s shot schedule, and if they do, their children present less of a risk for infections during early development.
  • Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding in an upright position:
    When feeding your baby, try and keep them in the upright position. While breastfeeding typically places the child in this position, many parents bottle-feed their children lying down. Because of the horizontal and narrow design of the eustachian tubes at an early age, blockages are more likely to occur in this position, leading to potential infections. By feeding your baby in an upright position, you limit the risks.
    Breastfeeding also tends to provide babies with an additional level of protection. Studies have shown that infants who breastfeed up to 12 months have fewer infections.
  • Self-soothing:
    Pacifiers are useful tools to soothe crying infants, but it becomes troublesome as your child ages. In terms of ear troubles, pacifiers can become cesspools of bacteria that your child or toddler repeatedly puts in their mouth. The bacteria will creep down your little one’s throat and into their eustachian tube, affecting their middle ear. For toddlers or children over the age of one, it is a good idea to limit pacifier usage, eventually weaning your child off entirely so they can learn to self-soothe.

Prevention Techniques for Everyone

Other preventative techniques can benefit the majority of people, from children to adults. While adults have more complex and wider eustachian tubes, preventing easy access to the middle ear, bacteria can still find a way. As with any illness or infection, the best remedy is to avoid getting sick. Therefore, the below techniques limit your exposure to infection-causing bacteria, protecting you against bacterial infections.

  • Nasal irrigation:
    While not practiced by most people, nasal irrigation is a useful tool against allergies, colds, and infections. The process works by sending a flow of saline or other saltwater solution through the nostril cavity. You pour from one nostril and out the other, rinsing mucus and allergens out of the nose, clearing the nasal passages.
  • Good hygiene:
    You want to keep your ears clean and dry during the cold season, but it is unnecessary to use a cotton swab. Swabs will remove about half of the earwax in your ear and force the other half deep into the canal, making it challenging for professionals to remove. Your ears can eliminate excessive wax on their own, and you only need to worry about maintaining a clean and dry outer ear. You can use a tissue and your finger after showering to dry your ear.
  • Flu shot:
    As with immunizations for young children, an annual flu shot helps protect adults against infections. The shot also boosts your immune system response, meaning that it may not last as long if you get an infection.
  • Allergy control:
    Using nasal sprays or other allergy medications can help to keep nasal passages clear and clean. By staying on top of allergies, you protect your ears.
  • Cold prevention:
    The best form of cold prevention is washing your hands regularly. When in public, avoid touching your face.
  • Healthy lifestyle:
    A healthy lifestyle is a good defense. Eating right, exercising, and avoiding drugs and alcohol can reduce your risks of infections.

Preventing ear infections isn’t only a concern for youngsters; many adults also struggle every year. The excellent news is that you can reduce your risks through deliberate and hygienic practices. Focusing on maintaining a clean body, environment, and diet is the best way to fight against infections and illnesses. With the cold season already in full swing, it is more crucial now than ever to focus on your health and wellbeing, especially for your ears.


Tips to Prevent Ear Infections – WebMD

How To Prevent Ear Infections When It’s Cold – Keck Medicine of USC

Preventing and Treating Ear Infections – Center Disease Control