Kids of Parents Who Smoke More Prone to Ear Infections

Here is another reason for smokers to kick the habit. According to a new review paper that combines the findings of 61 previous studies, kids of parents who smoke are more likely to get ear infections and have hearing problems than other children.

What is more troubling is that kids of moms who smoke were also almost twice as likely to need surgery for recurrent ear infections or similar problems.  And while the findings do not directly say that the second hand smoke was the direct cause of the ear infections, the review has found many cases that tie the two together.

Dr. Michael Weitzman, who studies the effects of parental smoking at New York University Medical Center and who was not part of the review says,

“It’s pretty impressive, especially since ear infections cause enormous pain. [The new paper ] once again highlights a common child health problem that is profoundly influenced by mothers’ smoking,” he says, “and it focuses our attention more than previous studies have on it resulting in surgical procedures for children.”

The review’s was led by Laura Jones of the University of Nottingham in England. The team calculated that if secondhand smoke was indeed the reason for the ear infections then in 2008 alone 130,000 of close to 2 million middle ear diseases in UK kids would have occurred because of their parents smoking habit.

In the US, 293,000 cases of frequent ear infections out of about 4.5 million annually, would be attributed to secondhand smoke from the home.

The combined findings showed that a child living with a smoker had a 37 percent chance of a having middle ear disease including ear infections and hearing problems and a 62 percent higher risk if the smoker was their mom.

What’s more, when mothers smoked their kids were 86 percent more likely to get a surgery for middle ear infection and recurrent ear infections.

It was also revealed that by the time a child turned three years old, 3 out of 4 children had an ear infection.

Dr. Joseph DiFranza, a tobacco researcher from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester said that it was the surgery part that was the most worrisome as it involved putting a tube in the ear to drain out fluid.

“Ear infections themselves are very common, but the surgery is not,” he commented.

Experts believe that exposure to smoking may cause tube in the ear to inflame and block up. Water could then leak into an empty pocket behind the ear drum, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and cause infection.

It has always been said that parent’s smoking may cause asthma and allergy problem in kids. Expectant moms also put their baby at risk of sudden infant death when they smoke.

“There are going to be kids who live in families with smokers who don’t get ear infections,” said Kathleen Daly, who studies ear infections at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. But living with a smoker “definitely puts the child at higher risk,” she says.

The review though did not take into account other reasons for kids getting ear infection such as parents’ missed work days, and extra antibiotic prescriptions breeding resistant bacteria.

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About the author


Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called


  • does this study account for if the parent smoked in the home or outside of the home. are their any studies that show a difference. the reason i am asking is because many parents smoke but they do it outside and not in the house where the children are

  • What I found really interesting about this is that the study didn’t mention whether smoking outdoors, away from children, was an issue. Yet, even smoking away from children doesn’t increase ear infections, recent studies have found that third hand smoke – the chemical resudue that smoke leaves behind – also presents a health risk. No way around it, as a parent, quitting is best. That said, it’s easier said than done. I still struggle with it, even though I quit for a year. All of this just gives me an extra incentive to stop.

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