In a healthy child, the middle ear is filled with air and sound waves enter the ear canal causing it to vibrate and hearing results. However if the middle ear is filled with fluid the vibrations of the eardrum are restricted and diminished hearing or temporary hearing loss is experienced.
The air in the middle ear travels through the Eustachian tube that connects the ear to the back of the nose. Its purpose is to equalize middle ear pressure and help drain and control fluids in the middle ear. A young child’s Eustachian tube is shorter, flatter and more horizontal than in an adult ear. As a result, the middle ear may not drain properly and infected fluids from the back of the nose may reach the middle ear more easily. This is why children are more likely to have middle ear fluid and develop ear infections.
The medical term used to describe inflammation of the middle ear, or ear infection, is otitis media. When the middle ear is infected, the condition is called acute otitis media and symptoms include persistent ear pain, fever, irritability and behaviour change. Infants may rub their ears and cry.
When fluid is in the middle ear without infection, the condition is called otitis media with effusion. It may arise from a recovering ear infection or be associated with an oncoming ear infection. Fluid may persist in the middle ear for weeks or even months after an episode of acute otitis media.
Otitis media with effusion generally does not cause symptoms such as pain or fever and you may think your child has recovered fully. However, in fact, your child’s hearing may still be impaired.
A child’s brain develops through the use of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The loss of any one of these senses for a period of time may affect the child’s development. For example, medical research has shown that children with recurrent ear infections and chronic middle ear fluid are prone to hearing impairments that may result in delay in speech and language development and exhibit lower scores on intelligence tests, even after the condition is corrected. Middle ear fluid which, may result in temporary hearing loss can have a long-term impact on your child’s development.
If you suspect your child has an ear infection, consult your doctor.
If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, consult your audiologist for an audiological assessment designed to find out what your child can and cannot hear.
All information is provided in the interests of Hearing Health education and is of a general nature. In all cases you should consult your doctor or other allied health professional for advice regarding your individual circumstances.