At any one time it is estimated that 30% of Australian children are suffering from an ear infection and it is the most common reason for a child under three years of age to visit a GP.
Most people associate ear infections with pain, throbbing and irritability when in fact they often occur without any obvious symptoms. Children suffering from ongoing ear infections can appear perfectly healthy. It is usually not apparent that they are experiencing fluctuating hearing loss that can have long term implications for speech and/or learning development.
It is perhaps because the condition is so common that some parents and health professionals are relatively blasé about ear infections. However, frequent bouts can result in delayed language development and classroom learning problems.
When fluid builds in the middle ear as a result of an ear infection (a condition commonly known as ‘glue ear’), the ear drum is prevented from vibrating normally, causing a reduction in hearing.
Periods of reduced hearing at an early age can impact on a child’s language development since children need to hear consistent and clear speech sounds in order to develop strong language abilities.
In young children, fluctuating hearing loss can affect speech clarity and language development can plateau. They may leave off the beginning and/or end of words and these articulation issues may persist even after the child’s hearing is corrected.
Learning problems and “selective listening”
The reduction in hearing caused by an acute ear infection can make it harder for a student to listen in the classroom and to follow instructions.
Frequent ear infections at a young age can impact on the development of a child’s auditory pathways, making it difficult for them to process what they hear. This condition, referred to as an auditory processing deficit, becomes particularly apparent when a child starts school.
Students with auditory processing problems typically have trouble processing two or more instructions or pieces of information and find it difficult to sustain attention in class. They are often referred to as “selective listeners” because it may appear as though they only listen when they want to. However, some sufferers find it difficult to hear in the presence of background noise, such as in the classroom or when they are watching television.
Who can help?
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and/or learning development, an assessment by an Audiologist is recommended to see if ear infections may be responsible. Audiologists possess the knowledge and equipment to thoroughly examine the ear canal and the functioning of the ear drum to establish if your child is suffering from hearing loss or the effects of multiple ear infections. A doctor’s referral is not required.
Based on the assessment outcomes, the Audiologist may then recommend further medical investigations. While acute ear infections can be treated with antibiotics, most Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists agree that grommets are the treatment of choice for chronic ear infections. Speech pathology and auditory training intervention may also be considered.
Would you like more information?
The health and education professionals at Sonic Learning would be happy to help – call 1300 135 334 or contact us via our website for a free telephone consultation.