When a child consistently has ear infections, or has fluid in his ears, it makes it difficult to hear sounds and words accurately. If you plug your ears with your fingers, you can appreciate the muffled quality of speech your child is experiencing. Recurrent ear infections often occur before age 3 – when a child is learning to speak. These frequent ear infections may lead to speech and language difficulties.
- Speech (articulation) is the production of sounds that make up words and sentences.
- Language refers to the use of words and sentences to convey ideas and express our wants and needs.
You may realize your child is having difficulty hearing if he says “What?” often, has trouble following instructions and / or difficulty paying attention. He may wish for the music or television volume to be turned up as well.
Conversely, you may feel that your child is hearing just fine, despite fluid in the ear or a recent ear infection. However, he may have difficulty understanding words in conversational speech and hearing certain sounds, which could make it difficult for him to learn to produce these sounds accurately. Formal hearing tests with an audiologist and attending follow-up appointments with your Pediatric ENT are crucial. It is not possible for you to determine if your child can hear accurately without having a complete audiological examination.
Ear infections are generally treated with antibiotics, but there is no good medical treatment for ear fluid without infection. When a child has frequent ear infections or when fluid persists in the ears for an extended period of time, your ENT doctor may recommend ear tube placement. The tubes help ventilate the ear while your child’s natural ear drainage system is maturing. Most tubes stay in place for 4 months to a year, and they generally fall out on their own. By that time, your child’s anatomy will likely have changed, and it will be easier for them to clear the fluid or to avoid infections. In about 15% of cases, the tubes need to be replaced.
When your child has an ear infection:
- Talk and read to your child face to face
- Eliminate background noise
- Get your child’s attention before you speak
- Use a normal loudness level
- Confirm that your child is understanding what you are saying
As a seasoned speech therapist and mother of two young children with a history of chronic ear infections, I would be happy to speak with you about questions you may have about your child’s speech and language development.