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Ear infections in kids are costly

Harold Mandel's picture
A child suffering from an ear infection

Kids suffer from a lot of ear infections and the costs are high. Ear infections in kids can be a very troubling problem with associated fevers and the need to stay home in bed. A realization of how high the costs are in dealing with ear infections in kids should alert us to how widespread the problem is and the need for more aggressive manners to try to prevent these infections.

The diagnosis of acute otitis media confers a significant growing health-care utilization burden on both patients and on the health care system, reports The Laryngoscope. Pediatric acute otitis media accounts for about $2.88 billion in added health care expense annually across the USA. With its high prevalence across the United States this creates a serious health-care utilization concern.

In this study there was a focus on about 8.7 million children who were diagnosed with acute otitis media. Kids with this condition had additional medical office visits and prescription fills per year versus those kids without the condition. Also, acute otitis media was found to be associated with an incremental increase in outpatient health care costs of $314 per child per year along with an increase of $17 in patient medication costs. The observed addition of about $2.88 billion in added health care expense annually from pediatric acute otitis media is a significant health-care utilization concern.

Therefore, the health care system is burdened with about $3 billion in costs per year from kids' ear infections, reports UCLA. Acute otitis media, or ear infection, has been observed to be the most common illness among kids of preschool age and younger in the United States. This is primarily because these kids have:

1: Immature middle-ear drainage systems

2: Higher exposure to respiratory illnesses

3: Undeveloped immune systems

As would be anticipated acute otitis media is the most common reason for antibiotic use among all kids. Due to today's political and economic climate, with strained health-care resources and cost-containment efforts, the costs associated with acute otitis media are under more scrutiny than ever before by health care and government administrators.

A new study by UCLA and Harvard University researchers has been the first to use a national population database which gives a direct comparison of expenditures for pediatric patients who are diagnosed with ear infections and similar patients who have not suffered from ear infections. The findings demonstrate that acute otitis media is associated with significant increases in direct costs which are incurred by consumers and the health care system.

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Dr. Nina Shapiro, study co-author, has said, "Although the annual incidence of ear infection may be declining in the U.S., the number of kids affected remains high, and the public health implications of AOM are substantial." Dr. Shapiro goes on to point out that efforts to control costs and allocate resources in our health care system are particularly important at this time.

Dr. Shapiro has pointed out that although certain immunizations that target infection-causing bacteria might play a role in slightly lowering the overall rate of ear infections, millions of young kids will still suffer from them. She has said, "The take-home message is that the common ear infection is an extremely costly entity with significant financial burdens on the health care system." With the heavy financial considerations in dealing with acute otitis media of great concern, clearly prevention is of paramount interest.

The best way to prevent ear infections is to lower the risk factors which are associated with them, writes the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Some things which you might want to do to decrease your child’s risk for ear infections includes:

1: Vaccinate your child against the flu. Make certain your child gets the influenza, or flu, vaccine every year. Studies have shown that vaccinated kids get far fewer ear infections than kids who aren’t vaccinated.

2: Wash hands frequently. Washing hands well prevents the spread of germs and can help protect your child from catching a cold or the flu.

3: Avoid exposing your baby to cigarette smoke. Studies have shown that babies who are around people who smoke have more ear infections.

4: Do not ever put your baby down for a nap, or for the night, with a bottle.

5: Don’t allow children who are sick to spend time together.

I always hear stories from mother's about their concerns about childhood infections, with questions always raised about the best methods of prevention for these infections. The high costs of dealing with acute otitis media in children is a direct reflection of how often kids are sick with this condition, which is more than just a financial drain on kids and their parents.

Clearly, prevention is the best initial approach to dealing with ear infections and other infections in kids. Parents should discuss these issues with their Family Doctors or pediatricians. And if prevention fails, getting a quick evaluation from your child's physician will make things safer and easier for your child and the entire family. EmaxHealth reporter Robin Wulffson, MD discusses when antibiotics are necessary for childhood ear infections in a separate article.