How is Language Affected by Ear Infections?
One of the most common childhood illnesses is the inflammation of the middle ear. This infection occurs behind the eardrum and can occur in either or both ears. There are two types of ear infections that are the greatest cause for concern; acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion.
Acute otitis media is also known as an ear infection. The fluid in the middle ear will occasionally remain even after the infection has been treated. Otitis media with effusion is when fluid collects behind the middle ear but does not become infected. It can happen when a child has a cold or severe allergies and the tube that connects the ear to the throat becomes blocked allowing the fluid to collect.
Children typically have at least one ear infection by their first birthday, and up to 20% will have fluid in the middle ear three or more times, with the fluid remaining for up to a month at a time. The middle ear is usually filled with air. When fluid fills this space, it can cause the bones to vibrate differently and result in a temporary deficit in hearing until the fluid goes away. These types of infections are most common in children under the age of three, although they can occur in older children and adults.
Identifying Hearing Loss
Children who have temporary or permanent hearing loss may have difficulty paying attention to conversations or show a delayed response when being spoken to. Sometimes they will not respond at all or ask for the information to be repeated. They may have difficulty following directions and seem to be uncooperative. Children with hearing loss will often want the volume on televisions, radios, and toys turned up. They may eventually begin to withdraw from other children as it becomes more difficult to communicate effectively.
The Effect of Language Development
The highest frequency of these infections occur at the same time when a child is typically learning new language skills. Children learn to speak and use words by interacting with those around them. If they are having more difficulty understanding the speech due to the fluid in their middle ear, it can lead to delays or longer lasting difficulties. The impact is still being studied by researchers, but there is believed to be a correlation.
Parents who are concerned that their child is exhibiting behaviors associated with hearing loss that may be negatively impacting the child’s language acquisition should consult their pediatrician. A physical exam and hearing test can help identify a current and ongoing hearing issue.
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