In 2006, approximately 9 million children, ages 0-17, reported having ear infections otherwise known as otitis media. Of those, 8 million children reported visiting a physician or obtaining a prescription drug to treat the condition.
Medical spending to treat otitis media totaled $2.8 billion in 2006.
That’s a lot of ear infections! But, did you know that some people may be especially susceptible to middle ear infections? Researchers have now found a reason why and its roots are in our DNA.
Genetics and ear infections
Genetics has become a top area of research for everything from an ideal diet to hearing loss treatment. Now genes could also hold the answers as to why some children are more likely to get ear infections than others. Recent research out of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has shown that the missing link could be in the FUT2 gene and its variations.
This gene and its expression have been studied in the salivary gland, colon, and lungs but less is known about its expression in the middle ear. Until now. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus findings show that the FUT2 gene may affect the microbiome of the middle ear and how effective it is at fighting off bacteria that cause ear infections. These findings were published online in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
“A number of things predispose people to getting these infections including a lack of vaccinations, lack of breastfeeding and being around smoking caregivers,” said the study’s lead author, Regie Santos-Cortez, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “But even in the best case scenario, recurrent or chronic middle ear infections still happen in some kids, which may be due to genetic predisposition.”
What this means for the future
Santos-Cortez and her team believe that their findings could eventually translate into risk screenings. While certain populations such as those of Filipino and South Asian heritage have a higher likelihood of this FUT2 gene expression, they are not alone. Experts believe that the identification of this risk factor could help medical professionals determine who could be at higher risk for more targeted prevention strategies. This could not only help reduce medical costs due to ear infections and their treatment but also many sleepless nights and painful ears for families.
Signs and symptoms of an ear infection
If you or your child has ear pain, a feeling of fullness in the ear, fever, ear drainage, irritability, lack of appetite, tugging at the ear or other signs of an ear infection, visit your healthcare provider. In some cases, a prolonged ear infection or recurring severe ear infections can lead to hearing loss. Your provider can diagnose and offer treatment options such as antibiotics as well as make recommendations to minimize discomfort during the course of the infection.
If you have questions about ear infections or believe you or your child may have one, contact our office to schedule an appointment.