By Hope Hagerman, Speech-Language Pathologist

Did you know that ear infections are among the most common sicknesses during childhood? Also known as otitis media, ear infections can be very painful, and studies have shown that many children will have at least one acute ear infection by the time they are 12 months old. Ear infections develop when there is inflammation or fluid in the middle ear. We all know that children typically develop common colds often, resulting in fluid in the middle ear cavity. Because their immune systems are still developing, children have a more difficult time fighting off infections. Having fluid and/or inflammation in the middle ear can sometimes make it difficult for the child to hear certain sounds, which is very important for speech development. Some experts describe the hearing difficulty that can accompany an ear infection as “trying to hear something while underwater.” It can be quite stuffy and uncomfortable for your child. So, how do you know your child might have an ear infection? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Tugging or pulling at the ear
  • Complaining that their ear hurts or rings
  • Fever
  • Crying or more irritable than normal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Drainage from ear
  • Not responding to sounds
  • Clumsiness or difficulties with balancing

You may wonder why it is so important to look for these signs and symptoms when it comes to ear infections. After an ear infection is treated properly, any hearing loss or muffled sounds will most likely return back to normal on its own. However, if an ear infection goes untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the middle ear causing permanent hearing loss. There are also ways to help prevent ear infections:

  • Avoid exposing your child to cigarette smoke
  • Avoid putting your baby down for a nap/bedtime with a bottle
  • Avoid propping your baby’s bottle while feeding
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Try to keep your child away from others who may have a cold/flu

If you do suspect your child has an ear infection, it is best to get it checked out by their primary care physician or ENT. Antibiotics and/or ear drops are generally prescribed and can aid in the treatment of the ear infection. If a child has multiple ear infections in their life, their doctor may recommend the placement of pressure equalization (PE) tubes. In most cases, ear infections can be easily treated if handled correctly and promptly. So, if you see the symptoms listed above, do not hesitate to get it checked out. We want to do all that we can to protect those sweet little ears!

For more information on ear infections you can visit this link: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/ear-infections-children

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