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Can Childhood Ear Infections Impact Speech & Language?

ear infections and speech development

The answer to this question is "yes". When a child has a middle-ear infection, fluid accumulates in the middle ear. The middle ear space behind the eardrum is typically filled with air - not fluid. This fluid can actually remain even after the infection has cleared. The presence of this fluid can cause a temporary hearing loss or reduction in hearing. And of course children with repeated infections or fluid build up have a higher likelihood of speech and language delays.

Many children have at least one middle-ear infection (also known as Otitis Media) before the age of one and 10-20% of children have more frequent ear infections. Fluid can last on average up to one month per infection. Of huge importance is that persistent fluid is more common for children under 2 years of age than for older children.

Why is this of huge importance? This is a critical time for language learning and speech development. During a child's first three years is when the most amount of language learning is taking place - both learning to speak and understanding language. Children do this by interacting with people around them. If hearing is muffled during this time, it only makes sense that speech and language development may be delayed as a result.

Signs of a Possible Ear Infection:

  • child pulls on ear
  • child says ear hurts
  • fever
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • drainage from ear

Otitis media can actually be present with no symptoms at all. If a child is prone to ear infections, this will often occur with a cold. There are two types of Otitis Media (inflammation of the middle ear): Acute otitis media is simply an infection in the middle ear and like mentioned above, fluid can remain even after the infection is cleared up. Otitis media with effusion is the presence of fluid with no infection. This type often occurs with no symptoms at all. If your child is showing any of the above signs, see your child's pediatrician as soon as possible. As with any condition, the earlier treatment is started, the better.

Signs of a Possible Hearing Loss:

Children with otitis media will often have a mild to moderate temporary hearing loss. If you suspect your child may have trouble with her hearing, check for a difference in behavior and check for these signs:

  • has difficulty paying attention
  • not following directions well
  • saying 'huh" often
  • not responding when spoken to
  • needing volume turned up on tv or radio

If you continue to suspect that your child may have a hearing loss, you'll want to first take her into the pediatrician for a hearing screening. If a hearing screening is failed then the next step would be to see an audiologist. An audiologist will be able to do a more in-depth hearing assessment and can provide treatment for children who suffer from even temporary hearing loss.

Here are some helpful resources:


My Ear Hurts-A Complete Guide to Understanding and Treating Your Child\'s Ear Infections

My Ear Hurts! offers clear explanations of the causes of ear infections and up-to-the-minute discussions of:
* traditional medications, including the overuse of antibiotics
* surgical treatments, from insertion of ear tubes to new laser techniques
* alternative treatment options, such as herbal and homeopathic remedies and chiropractic treatment.

Healing Childhood Ear Infections: Prevention, Home Care, and Alternative Treatment

In this updated and revised second edition of his bestselling Childhood Ear Infections, Dr. Michael Schmidt describes the current controversy in medical journals questioning existing treatments for chronic earaches.

Additional resources from around the web that may be helpful:

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

Your ability to communicate with others is precious. Good hearing is an important part of that ability. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of a problem - Have Your Hearing Checked by a Certified Audiologist!

Filed under Articulation, Birth to 3 years old, Language Development by Tami

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Comments on Can Childhood Ear Infections Impact Speech & Language? »

May 18, 2008

JoyD @ 12:22 pm

Visiting your site to find out whats the latest..

I gain alot of information from you.. keep it up!!!

JoyDs last blog post..Eat your Veggies……!!!!!!!

Tami @ 5:01 pm

Thanks JoyD,
I enjoy reading your posts too. I love that last one about eating your vegies. Have you tried those cupcakes? They sound kinda weird!

May 25, 2008

Marci @ 5:48 pm

I love that you included the link about chiropractic care and ear infections! Chiropractic care can not only help with a current ear infection but can help prevent future ear infections.

Marcis last blog post..Learned Helplessness

June 2, 2011

Hearing Aids Ireland @ 6:48 am

Very informative!!

I will ensure myself to keep these in mind for my children hearing ability safety.
Thanks for sharing and keep the good work in future also.

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