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Middle Ear Infections and Language Development

Middle Ear Fluid that accompanies infections often causes fluctuating and/or temporary hearing loss.  This doesn’t mean deaf.  It may be a loss that registers as mild in a few speech frequencies. 

However, when it comes to early brain development while a child is learning language even a mild loss can have negative consequences over a period of time. 

In the last post I wrote about the filter effect of childhood Hearing impairment.  You can read about that HERE.  

In cold and flu season when children are more frequently congested there is much higher risk for fluctuations in hearing. 

When there is congestion or swelling in the eustachian tube, from even the common cold, the system that equalizes the pressure inside and outside the middle ear can disfunction.  When there is negative pressure in the middle ear space it begins to draw in fluids which can then become infected if it stays around.   This fluid changes the way the eardrum and the middle ear bones transfer sound. 

In Europe it’s sometimes known as “glue ear” which kind of gives a good description of how it slows things down in there.  

Here’s the deal with this.  You take your child to the pediatrician and if it’s infected he/she might treat it. However, there can be fluid that is not infected…..yet.  This is not a MEDICAL concern but it is still an EDUCATIONAL concern.  Fluid in the ear can cause temporary conductive hearing loss. 

Even mild loss can have negative impact on hearing details of speech such as if a sound is a t, k, or p

Over time with fluctuations the brain has input of words in clear sounds and in “less clear” sounds.  For a child just beginning to learn language it’s difficult for him/her to know which one is accurate. 

If this is a chronic situation this often leads to speech sound production delays or deficits.

If your child gets frequent middle ear infections an ENT (otolaryngologist aka Ear Nose and Throat specialist) might put pressure equalization tubes to help air out the middle ear space and prevent further infections.  

Very young children are more susceptible  to middle ear fluid due to the angle/ position of the Eustachian tube.  As a child grows the Eustachian tube slants at more of a steeper angle and tends to keep draining better than in a young child. 

School speech-language pathologists work with students who have a very wide variety of delays and types of communication and learning deficits. 

Even though a child may not have or ever have had a diagnosed hearing loss the majority of cases of children with delays do show case histories with chronic middle ear infections. 

For a child with hearing loss who is learning to listen to and use spoken language the impact of middle ear fluid can be even greater than for any other child.  In this instance EVERY DECIBEL MATTERS. 

Be alert and if a physician ever says “It’s just fluid with no infection” make a follow up appointment to have it rechecked anyway.  Remember, even though it’s not medically concerning to have fluid if it’s not infected it is educationally concerning. This might also be a good time to check in with the audiologist to insure that the hearing aids are set for maximum benefit if there has been a change in hearing status.  

Parents with children with hearing loss should be monitoring hearing daily using the Ling 6 Sounds to insure clear perception across the speech frequency range.  In the winter months when seasonal congestion is more common or whenever the child might be struggling with allergies this task is even more important.  

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Here’s the link to our storefront on Teachers Pay Teachers (not just for Teachers) which has speech-language development and activities to help children grow their receptive and expressive language skills.

Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.