An ear infection, also called otitis media, is one of the most frequent medical diagnoses for children. Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. It ranks second to the common cold in preschool children. In addition, an estimated 5 million school days are missed every year due to otitis media.
What causes an ear infection?
Ear infections occur when the small space behind the ear drum, or the middle ear, becomes inflamed. This can lead to fluid buildup, infection and fluctuating hearing loss. It can be hard to know if your child has an ear infection, especially if he or she is very young.
Some warning signs your child may have an ear infection include:
- Pulling or tugging at the ear
- Crying more than usual
- Not responding to sounds
- Trouble sleeping
- Drainage from the ear
Why is temporary hearing loss due to an ear infection a concern?
First of all, hearing is critical for the development of speech, language, communication skills, socialization and learning. The earlier hearing loss is identified and intervention is started, the more likely it is the negative effects of hearing loss will be reduced. Ear infections with fluid take an average of 40 days to clear. In cases of a chronic ear infection (four to five episodes over a six- to 12-month period), children could experience as many as 200 days of reduced hearing in a year. If a temporary problem becomes a chronic problem, there can be a significant impact on a child’s speech development and success in the classroom.
The good news?
Ear infections can be treated and monitored. If you suspect your child has an ear infection, start by contacting your child’s pediatrician. If the ear infections occur often, you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat physician. You may also be referred to an audiologist, who can give your child a complete hearing test.
For more information about ear infections in children, and the importance of hearing on a child’s development, please visit asha.org