Most children will have at least one ear infection by the time they're three years old. Middle-ear infections occur second only to the common cold among children. They often occur as a secondary infection from a cold or flu when fluids don't drain from the child's ears. Frequent ear infections, or those that go untreated, may lead to hearing loss, which can also affect speech and language development. In rare cases, untreated ear infections can lead to meningitis (men-un-JYE-tus), an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Ear infections are usually caused by viruses or bacteria, but they may also be the result of accumulated ear wax, a foreign object in the ear, frequent swimming, or even high altitudes. Depending on the cause, they're usually treated with oral or topical antibiotics. There's no guaranteed way to prevent ear infections, but there are some things you can do to reduce their frequency. One way is to make sure the child isn't around tobacco smoke, either at home, in childcare facilities, at friends' homes, or in restaurants. Environmental smoke is believed to be responsible each year for over two-million ear infections in children. Keeping a child's head elevated while drinking can also reduce the chances of getting an ear infection. Be sure not to put cotton swabs or other objects in a child's ear. For more information about pediatric ear infections, contact a healthcare professional.