UCLA Logo Ear infections or otitis media may be commonly reported among children. Sometimes kids also suffer from repeated occurrence of these infections. It now seems that demographic differences play a major role in ear infections, or at least this investigation suggests so. Investigators from the UCLA and Harvard University have apparently discovered disparities among children with repeated ear infections.

It has been revealed that ear infections are widespread in white kids and children living below the poverty level. Such infections were less likely to appear in children of other racial or ethnic backgrounds or income levels. Experts estimate that approximately 80 percent kids reveal at least one infection by the age of three. Though several medical and surgical treatments are available, they can cost probably $3 billion to $5 billion every year.

“An understanding of the size and distribution of the population of children with frequent ear infections is important because it is often these patients who will require more invasive and costly treatments. In this era of health care reform, it will be important to determine how to reach out to this population of children, whose inadequate health insurance coverage limits their options for treatment,” said Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, an associate professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-author of the study.

The study encompassed data from a 10-year period of 1997–2006. This data was provided by the National Health Interview Survey which is a large-scale, household-based survey of a statistically representative sample of the U.S. population. The scientists questioned parents of children under the age of 18 if their kid had three or more ear infections over the previous 12 months.

Shapiro commented, “The racial and ethnic disparity was somewhat surprising. We are not certain why these gaps exist, but possible explanations could include anatomic differences, cultural factors or disparate access to health care. It could also be that white children are overdiagnosed and non-white children are underdiagnosed.”

Experts examined demographic data like age, sex, race/ethnicity, income level and insurance status of children whose parents said yes. This analysis probably helped the authors to evaluate the influence of these variables on frequent ear infections. It was mentioned that the average age of children in the study was 8.5 years, and 51 percent were boys. From the total number of parents surveyed, 6.6 percent affirmed their child to have suffered from frequent ear infections.

It was discovered that among white children, 7.0 percent had frequent ear infection. On the other hand, 6.2 percent of Hispanic children, 5.0 percent of African American children and 4.5 percent of children from other racial or ethnic groups reported repeated ear infections. After adjusting for race and ethnicity the experts ascertained that children from households under the poverty level had a higher incidence of about 8.0 percent recurrent ear infections than children from above the poverty level. Further studies will be triggered for understanding the impact of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and inequalities linked to access to health care within the population of children with re-occurring ear infections.

The study is published in the August edition of the journal Laryngoscope.