As most parents know, ear infections are very common in young children. Research shows that the majority of children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are 1 year old (ASHA, 2020). The reason ear infections are so much more common in children than adults is the way their ears develop. We all have a tube that goes from the middle part of our ear to the back of our throat called the Eustachian tube- it helps the middle ear drain (ASHA, 2020). Children’s Eustachian tubes are smaller and less angled, which makes them more susceptible to getting built-up fluid and ear infections. Having fluid in the middle of the ear is not good, especially if it is consistently happening; it can make it harder for children to hear, and this can lead to speech and language delays.
It is not always easy to know when your child has an ear infection, and they may show you in various ways. Signs of an ear infection can include crying more than usual, having a fever, pulling/tugging at the ears, trouble sleeping, fluid draining from the ears, and not responding to sounds (ASHA, 2020). If your child is presenting with any of these signs, they should be seen by a doctor. Treatment can look different depending on the severity of your child’s ear infection and how frequently they get them. They may need antibiotics or surgery to put a tube in to drain out the fluid. Some may use the waiting method, where you wait for the fluid to go away on its own (ASHA, 2020).
When a child has fluid in their middle ear, they cannot hear sounds as well; this can lead to a conductive hearing loss. Imagine trying to hear something underwater- this is what sounds can be like if your child presents with this type of hearing loss (ASHA, 2020). Not all children will have problems with their hearing when they have an ear infection- some may have short-term hearing loss that goes away once their ear infection is gone. Recurrent ear infections can cause permanent hearing loss. Going to the doctor and getting the appropriate treatment is crucial!
Not all children will have an ear infection if they have middle ear fluid, and this is where it can get tricky. You might be able to tell when your child has an ear infection, but it is harder to detect when they have an uninfected fluid collection in the middle ear. Your child could have fluid in the ear for weeks or months before you notice. Meanwhile, they are missing out on speech and language opportunities because they are not hearing sounds and words correctly. It is important to be aware of your child’s hearing and recognize when something might be off!
If your child is experiencing frequent ear infections or fluid in the ear, it may be good to see an audiologist and/or a speech-language pathologist. While the audiologist can test your child’s hearing and health of their middle ear and eardrum, the speech-language pathologist can test your child’s speech and language development. If testing indicates delays, a speech-language pathologist can work with your child to get their communication skills back on track!
Ear infections. (2020). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/OtitisMedia/#:~:text=You%20may%20hear%20or%20see,to%20speech%20and%20language%20delays.