June 20, 2008

Use of Pacifiers Increases Risk of Infant Ear Infections

New research suggests that babies prone to ear infections should avoid using a pacifier.

A five-year study examined 476 Dutch children under the age of four, and found that those who used pacifiers increased their risk of ear infections, known as acute otitis media, by 90 percent.  Children using pacifiers also had twice the risk of recurrent ear infections of those who did not use them, the study found.

The researchers from University Medical Center, Utrecht, advised doctors to warn parents of the risk.

Ear infections are very common among young children, with some prone to repeated bouts.  Antibiotics are often ineffective, and the infections often clear on their own within a few days.    

The researchers said their study results indicate that an initial ear infection may increase susceptibility to future infections, and that pacifier use may allow bacteria to more easily migrate from secretions in the nose to the middle ear.

"Pediatricians and GPs can use this information in their daily practice - they can dissuade parents from using a pacifier once their child has been diagnosed with acute otitis media to avoid recurrent episodes," Dr Maroeska Rovers, who led the study, told BBC News.

Professor Steve Field, chair of the Royal College of GPs told BBC News that previous studies were not put together very well.

"This is a very useful piece of research that shows use of dummies in children under the age of four who have a history of ear infections is not a good idea.

"There's no need to panic but - in those children - not using a dummy is likely to prevent recurrence," he said.

The study was published in the Journal of Family Practice.