Gallup Survey Shows Moms Are Concerned About Ear Infection Effects

January 08, 1999

CHICAGO -- January 5, 1998 -- A Gallup survey released today reports that, of the 77 percent of American moms whose preschool children have suffered from ear infections, 67 percent worry about the long-term effects ear infections will have on their children.

Ear infections, or otitis media, are the number one reason for doctor visits among preschoolers in America. They account for more than 24.5 million doctor visits annually, a number that has tripled among children under two years of age between 1975 and 1990. Recent studies in Pediatrics and The Journal of Infectious Diseases have shown that children who suffer from repeated ear infections before the age of six can experience temporary hearing loss, speech and language delays, coordination difficulties and, in some cases, permanent hearing loss.

Results of the survey, jointly sponsored by the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), and medical device manufacturer MDI Instruments, Inc., a division of Becton Dickinson, are based on a national sample of 1,000 mothers of children age six months through six years -- the age group which sees the greatest incidence of ear infections. The survey was conducted in December by The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ.

"Concerned parents should look beyond the infection itself to the middle ear fluid that accompanies it. In doing so, they can detect the fluid that is the actual cause of temporary or permanent hearing losses, motor skill problems, and speech and learning delays," said Dr. Harold C. Pillsbury III, president of the AAO-HNS. "Prolonged or frequent middle ear fluid is the connection between ear infections and almost all complications resulting from this disease. Parents need to understand that middle ear fluid can exist without any symptoms."

Middle ear fluid, which builds up behind the ear drum, is a sign of past, present or future ear infections. The fluid is a breeding ground for bacteria. Ear infections are also caused by viruses. In those cases, middle ear fluid is a result of the infection.

Pillsbury also noted that otitis media can, in fact, result in often overlooked developmental problems in preschool children. For example, a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases linked a 7 percent decline in children's standardized test score results for both mathematics and reading proficiency to the length of time the children in the study had middle ear fluid during the first three years of life.

The Gallup study confirms that, while the vast majority of the 1,000 mothers in the survey (94.3 percent) understand that without proper follow-up ear infections can lead to more serious complications, 76 percent of all American moms believe there is no way -- or don't know of a way -- to determine at home if fluid is present in their children's ears. In addition, of the moms whose children have suffered through three or more ear infections, 59 percent don't know there is a way to determine if middle ear fluid is present. Only half of all mothers surveyed say their child's doctor has discussed the consequences of prolonged or frequent ear infections with them.

Studies show that nearly 70 percent of children recovering from an ear infection still have fluid in the middle ear after a full course of antibiotics, with 50 percent showing signs of fluid four weeks after an ear infection. In some cases, the fluid can remain in a child's ear for up to six months. Medical specialists diagnose and monitor the problem in a variety of ways. With tympanometry, physician's use air pressure to test how well a child's eardrum moves; an eardrum that moves easily indicates a fluid-free middle ear. Many doctors diagnose fluid with an otoscope, an instrument with a light and lens that allows a doctor to see in the ear and determine the condition of the ear drum. And with acoustic reflectometry (AR), doctors use sound waves to test for the presence of fluid in the middle ear.

"Acoustic reflectometry is one of the technologies that has been successfully adapted for parents to use in detecting middle ear fluid in the home," said Stanford University pediatrician Alan Greene. In the Gallup survey, 80 percent of mothers said they would be either comfortable or very comfortable monitoring their own children for middle ear fluid, if it were possible. The EarCheckR Middle Ear Monitor incorporates acoustic reflectometry into a lightweight, hand-held instrument that allows parents to detect fluid in their children's middle ear by using sound wave technology to measure responsiveness in the eardrum. The procedure takes as little as five seconds.

"This device is simple and painless, and takes the guesswork out of the decision of whether or not to call the doctor," said Greene. Color-coded indicators on the EarCheck Monitor reveal the probability of fluid and direct parents to the appropriate next steps: for example, to consult the doctor or to continue monitoring for fluid.

Dr. Greene offered the following advice: Results of the survey have a confidence rating of 95 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. MDI paid for this survey as a way to educate parents about the health risks associated with otitis media with effusion.

EarCheck is a registered trademark of MDI Instruments, Inc., a developer of non-invasive medicalinstruments that improve the quality of health care for children. A division of global medical technology leader Becton Dickinson, MDI is based in Woburn, Massachusetts.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery is a medical organization of more than 11,000 physicians who specialize in the medical and surgical treatment of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Its function is to advance the science and art of medicine related to otolaryngology and to represent the specialty in governmental and socioeconomic issues.


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