Common Ear Issues Among Children

Ear examinationEarly childhood ear problems can have a huge impact not only on a child’s ability to hear, but on their speech and literacy as well. The most common problem, middle ear infections (otitis media) occurs at least once in 70% of children before the age of 3 (“Recurrent Middle Ear Infections Can Have A Major Impact On Children’s Development”, and is most likely to occur during the most critical time in language development; 6-18 months.

According to Dr. Heather Winskel from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Psychology, “Fluctuating hearing loss due to OM during the early years of life presents the child with an intermittent speech signal that is difficult to process,” leading to possible poor language and literacy skills.

There are a couple of subtypes of OM; one is usually caused by a viral upper respiratory infection that blocks the Eustachian tubes and allows fluid to back up in the middle ear that then becomes infected (Acute OM). The second is a result of the Eustachian tubes not working properly, which create a vacuum within the middle ear that then pulls fluid into the middle ear (Otitis media with effusion).

But OM is not the only reason a child might experience hearing loss. There are also such things as congenital hearing loss, acquired hearing loss, acute otitis media, otitis media with effusion, and otitis externa (swimmer’s ear).

Congenital Hearing Loss

Congenital hearing loss refers to hearing loss with which the child is born, and can be due to heredity or a number of prenatal or birth factors. Some examples of hereditary causes are autosomal dominant or recessive hearing loss (one parent carries either a dominant or recessive gene related to hearing loss) and x-linked hearing loss where the mother carries the recessive gene but only passes it along to male children. Congenital hearing loss can also be caused by such things as RH blood factor complications, toxemia during pregnancy, and maternal diabetes.

Acquired Hearing Loss

Acquired hearing loss is hearing loss that occurs any time after birth and can be caused by a number of things such as mumps, measles, drugs that damage the auditory system, and head injuries, as well as ear infections.

Swimmer’s Ear

A condition commonly known as swimmer’s ear (Otitis Externa), can also cause hearing loss. This condition is often due to a bacterial infection of the outer ear and ear canal but may also be a result of dermatitis. The onset of this condition is usually fairly quick and painful.

Whatever the cause, the signs of any ear problem should be recognized (loss of hearing evidenced by non-response to voices or sounds, needing the TV up louder than usual, balance issues, pain, fever, etc) and should not be ignored, especially in a young child as the long term effects may include speech and literacy problems.

Written by: Tricia Doane, FizzNiche Staff Writer

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