Otitis media and hearing loss?
Otitis media is the name for a fluid build-up in the middle ear due to inflammation, commonly called middle ear infections. This fluid prevents the ear drum sending sound from the middle to the inner ear. Otitis media is common in young children. It can vary in severity from a mild infection to a hole in the eardrum with ongoing infections. For some children it may develop into ‘glue-ear’ This is when the fluid becomes thick and ‘glue-like’. Children with frequent ear infections will experience a fluctuating hearing loss whenever these ear infections occur. The effects vary from day-to-day so they may be able to hear clearly one day and have significant difficulty the next.
How does this affect speech and language?
Can you imagine speaking to someone when you have ear plugs in? You can see that they are speaking, and you can hear some sound but you won’t be able to understand all the words.
For children to learn language they need repeated exposure to good language models. A child with fluctuating hearing loss will be exposed to fewer words on a consistent basis impacting the size and quality of their vocabulary. Additionally, they may not be able to hear all the words in a sentence clearly affecting their ability to use appropriate sentence structures.
Children with ear infections will often have difficulty hearing quiet speech sounds such as “s,” “sh,” “f,” “t,” and “k”. The sounds they hear may be softer than usual or sound distorted. This will cause them to produce these sounds inaccurately as what they are hearing is incorrect. It will also impact their ability discriminate sounds in words (phonemic awareness), an important skill in reading, writing and spelling.
What you can do to help your child?
If your child has an ear infection or you suspect they have a hearing loss you can do the following:
- Make sure you have your child’s attention before speaking: Ensure your child is focused on listening before speaking to them.
- Ensure your child can see your face clearly: Speak normally. Don’t speak to your child from another room or at a distance. Keep your hands away from your face when speaking. Seeing your face will give your child extra clues if any speech sounds are missed. Encourage your child to look at you while you are speaking.
- Limit background noise or loud noises: For example, turn the TV off or down or move to another room so it is not competing with your voice when you are speaking to your child.
If you have more questions about how to help your child, please contact your local Speech Pathologist, or feel free to call Southern Highlands Speech Pathology for advice on (02) 4862 5063.
Picture courtesy of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.