Ear infections may be a common part of childhood, but "there are several strategies that can lessen the chance your child has to experience the pain and discomfort," says Phillip Snider, a family practice physician and registered dietitian in Norfolk, Va.
* Breastfeed your baby. Nursing for six to 12 months significantly lowers the risk of infection. If you are bottle feeding, hold babies in a more upright position and don't put them to bed with a bottle.
* Avoid cigarette smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are twice as likely to suffer from chronic ear infections. Don't smoke inside your house or car.
* Keep up on immunizations. That includes vaccinations against flu and pneumonia, which prevent respiratory illnesses that can lead to ear infections.
* Guard against illness. Colds cause clogged nasal passages, which can lead to clogged ear tubes. Do your best to avoid people who are sick and teach children the importance of frequent hand washing.
* Control allergens at home. Dust and vacuum regularly and get an allergy test if your child seems sensitive to certain foods.
* Eat healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables will boost a child's immune system to help fight off germs.
* Consider your child-care setting. Kids in large day-care centers generally are more likely to catch illnesses than those in smaller home settings.
* Consider preventive medicine. If your child is prone to ear infections, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics at the first sign of cold symptoms -- or even put a child on a low daily dose of antibiotics throughout the winter. The risk, however, is increased antibiotic resistance.
* Talk about surgery. Small, temporary ear tubes can help drain fluid that serves as a breeding ground for bacteria.