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Heritability and Otitis Media

January 21, 2000

Genetics a factor in ear infection? A study of 168 same-sex twins and 7 triplet sets, recruited within the first two months of life, reveals there may be a strong genetic component to prolonged time with and recurrent episodes of otitis media (OM), a middle ear infection found mostly in infants and young children. The study was conducted at the Otitis Media Research Center, Department of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), published in the December 8, 1999, issue of the Journal of American Medical Association.

Choosing twins and triplets was an important control factor of the study. It allowed scientists to study multiple children living in the same household with similar living conditions and surroundings, which narrowed the field of outside influences. This allowed scientists the opportunity to focus more on genetics being a possible factor of otitis media.

Determining which genes are specifically linked is difficult. Several genes may be involved and there may be differences among various population groups. Once the genes are identified, primary care physicians may be able to identify children and siblings at high risk of OM, and provide some ways for early intervention, frequent hearing tests, and more aggressive surgical management to forestall hearing, developmental, and cognitive complications or delays. An estimated $5 billion a year is spent on medical costs and lost wages due to OM. Otitis media is the most common diagnosis recorded for a sick child's visit to the physician's office or emergency room and the most common reason children receive antibiotics and undergo surgical care. For more information, read NIDCD's general fact sheet on Otitis Media or Otitis Media: Facts for Parents.

NIDCD, one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health, is the nation's focal point for research in human communication. NIDCD conducts and supports biomedical and behavioral research and research training on normal mechanisms as well as diseases and disorders of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.

Last Updated Date: 
January 21, 2000