The investigators, from Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea, conducted taste tests and measured body mass index (BMI) in two groups of children: 42 with chronic OME who were having a tube inserted to drain the fluid from their ear and another 42 children without chronic OME.
Children suffering from ear infections tended to be heavier than their counterparts. They also had reduced taste in the front part of the tongue, in particular, leading to a raised threshold for sweet and salt tastes. There was also a reduced ability to detect sour and bitter, but this was much less pronounced.
A higher taste threshold could indicate that children with chronic OME need to eat more food to get the sweet and salty tastes they crave, explained the study authors. And according to Simons, that could mean taking in more calories, "resulting in a contribution to obesity."
If this, in fact, does turn out to be the case, "this may be another reason to treat chronic OME," Simons reasoned.
On the other hand, the relationship may not be so simple. Carolyn Landis, associate professor of pediatrics at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital at University Hospitals in Cleveland, said the connection might be the other way around, with obesity helping to cause ear infections.
"It's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing," she said. As the study noted, obese people do have a thicker fat padding around their ear, which can predispose them to ear infections.
"It would be interesting to explore this further but from this one study, we can't say much definitively," Landis said.
There's more on ear infections at the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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