November 2nd, 2010
12:39 PM ET

Disparities found in ear infection treatment

Poor and minority children who get frequent ear infections are less likely to have the same access to affordable health care as other children, according to a new study.  Ear infections are one of  the most common health problems in children.  Frequent ear infections are defined as three or more a year.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA culled through government records and found that about 4.6 million children suffer from frequent ear infections.  Overall they found 3.7 percent of children could not afford care, 5.6 percent could not afford prescriptions and only 25.8 percent saw a specialist.

When researchers broke the numbers down further, here's what they found:

  • 42.7 percent of black children and 34.5 percent of Hispanic children with frequent ear infections were below the poverty level.  Only 12.4 percent of white children were below the poverty level.
  • 18.2 percent of Hispanic children were uninsured versus 6.5 percent of white children.
  • 29.2 percent of white children had access to specialty care versus 20 percent of African American children and 17.5 percent of Hispanic children.
  • 28.4 percent of African American children and 19.8 percent Hispanic children visited the emergency room at least twice for ear infections in a year.  Only 15.5 percent of white children did.

"Clearly, we found that children of certain ethnicities who suffer from frequent ear infections are more likely to face greater barriers to care, said study co-author Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and an associate professor of surgery at the Geffen School of Medicine, in a news release.  "This information provides an opportunity for improvements in our current health care reform."

The research is published in the November edition of the journal Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Alex F

    Children who have otitis media (OM, middle ear infection), should be treated with tylenol for pain. No antibiotics, since the infection is almost always viral. Giving antibiotics just builds up resistance and increases the potential for an allergic reaction to the antibiotic down the road, when your kid really needs it.

    November 2, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Improve Concentration

      Interesting – does that work in all cases?

      November 2, 2010 at 23:49 | Report abuse |
    • JC

      Are you a doctor?
      As someone who has worked in ENT offices for over 10 years, I can attest to the infections being bacterial - you can see it on cultures done on middle ear fluid after the tympanic membrane (ear drum) perforates. Taking only a pain reliever can cause the infection to linger, invade the mastoid bone which surrounds the ear and cause extensive bone infection.

      The bottom line is, don't self-treat, yet don't jump for antibiotics unless it's proven necessary by a culture.

      November 4, 2010 at 12:56 | Report abuse |
  2. Marie

    As a child who had 5-7 ear infections per year tylenol didnt cut it. Ive had 5 sets of tubes last one when I was 18 yrs old. its easy to sit back and say only tylenol and no antibiotics, but if you were three with the horrible pain of an ear infection you would want to get rid of it as fast as you can. I do think that getting rid of tonsils and adnoids truely help to curb infections in the ear and throat.

    November 2, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tea Time

      No way Marie. Our tonsils are vital for preventing infection. Only a brainwashed idiot would think that ripping out a vital organ is the solution to the problem. Only RECENTLY has there been evidence that our tonsils are indeed necessary. No Duh. Don't believe what stupid western doctors tell you. They are narrow-minded and only out for the green.

      November 2, 2010 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • LNF

      I'm with Marie on this one. I had as many as 8-10 ear infections a year throughout childhood and early adulthood. I had my tonsils removed in 1996 at the age of 21 and have not had a SINGLE ear infection since then. The recovery was kind of harsh b/c of post op infection, but well worth it. Because my tonsils remained intact for 21 years and no tubes were put in as they should have been, I now have a permanent hearing loss at around 20% in both ears. As an RN, I find this to be true in many cases of chronic ear infections. I'm not a huge fan of antibiotics at the drop of a hat, but they are certainly warranted in certain circumstances. Tylenol doesn't cut it.

      November 3, 2010 at 03:04 | Report abuse |
    • David2u

      Hey Tea Time I don't like my Mother being called an idiot. I had my tonsils removed 65 years ago and have not had an ear ache since. Before that I'd have them 3-4 times a year.

      November 3, 2010 at 08:14 | Report abuse |
  3. America is screwed up

    I love how they are trying to understand what they created.

    Englishmen sailed over to this country and stabbed the native americans in the back by lying to them. Stole their land, raped and murdered them all to near extinction. Then they dragged Africans over here to do their work as slaves for hundreds of years. After that, they ALLOWED non-whites to live here but separated them from everyone else and enacted laws against them to make them feel subhuman. Now, only less then 60 years later after non-whites have endured generation after generation of abuse they wonder why most minorities are still bottom of the totem pole? HUH?!!?!?!?!??! TAKE A WILD GUESS ON WHY THIS IS THE CASE!

    November 2, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LNF

      It's not rocket science. Makes me ashamed to be white at times.

      November 3, 2010 at 03:06 | Report abuse |
  4. Cecil

    We already know that minorities are not afforded the same opportunities as whites have for decades in this country. Are we going to study every possible variable and sit back and go 'hmmmm'?? Stupid pointless study.

    November 2, 2010 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. US Worker

    I work with a large hispanic community, everyone at my job is offered insurance nearly all the caucasion people take the insurance and virtually non of the hispanic community takes the insurance. Its not that they can't afford the insurance, I've seen the checks, they choose not to and do a disservice to themselves.

    November 2, 2010 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. J

    Medicaid is available to those below the poverty line? Why not a survey of people that are uninsured and under the poverty line but still fail to apply for a service available to them.

    November 2, 2010 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Joe Fanninng

    Chiropractic helps children with ear infection and they stay away. Look at http://bit.ly/earinfection.

    November 3, 2010 at 05:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. tx10262

    Its been shown that cigarette smoke increases the likelyhood of ear infections in infants and small children. My first two children were raised in a non smoking home. My third child was from my second marriage. This husband was a heavy smoker and our daughter suffered frequent ear infections from a a very early age. This article should include stats..smoking versus non smoking

    November 3, 2010 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Adina

    In addition to pain medication a decongestant will relieve the pressure and the pain will go away

    November 3, 2010 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dr. Mama

    Fundamental truth: Poor and minority children get sub-standard health care in the US. This applies to all health conditions of childhood. Minorities in the US have a life expectancy several years shorter than their white counterparts. Should we be surprised at these results?


    November 3, 2010 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Tony Myers

    LNF you should not be ashamed to be white. No person who is white should
    be ashamed to be who they are. You as an individual white person are not
    responsible for a racist system set up generations ago. So white people today
    enough of your white guilt already. Every race has blood and sin on their
    hands as much as white people. The Hutus and Tutsi both black ethnic
    groups committed genocide and many black ethnic groups and tribes killed
    and took each other as slaves for thousands of years as did Arabs
    and Romans. Many white people in America don't understand or see the
    big historical picture. The Romans periodically took Africans as well as
    Germanic people and Arab people and Celtic peoples that they would
    conquer and made slaves or soldiers to die for them in their armies.
    White people were not the first or only to ever have slaves or practice
    discrimination. All races did this at one time or another so stop your
    stupid misplaced white guilt and be proud of the beautiful varied white
    race with all the inventions and achievements this race has contributed
    to the world. Hold your head up and stop feeling guilty. You can do it
    at a boy you'll be okay.

    November 3, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Martin

    Social disparities have been evident for years in the health care system. Most children are going to have an ear infection at least once in their childhood. Its disturbing to know that they may not get medical care because they can't afford it. There are cheap effective antibiotics to treat ear infections, that is if they can afford the medical visit.


    November 9, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Buffalo Chiropractor


    Great article. I find that many children fight chronic ear aches and ear infections due to an imbalance in their nerve system. I have helped many kids recover very efficiently with chiropractic care. I find that the upper cervical region has an intimate relation with the inner workings of the ear. Parents can't believe it when their child recovers so fast. If you are suffering from ear aches or ear infections you should consider a chiropractic consultation locally.

    April 7, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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