Ear infection action plan

Does your child get those dreaded middle ear infections regularly? Well, then there are a few important things for you to know.

Middle ear infection is common

According to Dr Vincent Iannelli of the American Association of Paediatrics, 50% of children under the age of 12 months will get at least one middle ear infection, and between the ages of one and three, 35% of children will have repeated episodes.

Now consider how important speech development is to your child during these formative years and how living in a murky silence, not being able to clearly understand what is being said to them, can affect this.

What is middle ear infection?

Simply put, a middle ear infection occurs when there is a fluid build-up in the middle ear. It dramatically affects a person’s ability to process sounds properly. But what does this actually mean for your child?
Sit for a moment and put your hands tightly over your ears, now try to listen to a friend talking to you or watch a television program – difficult huh? Huh? You get the picture…

Middle ear infection can be caused by the common cold, allergies, or irritants such as cigarette smoke – and it can affect any child. The thing that most parents don’t realise is that the fluid – and the murky silence – can linger for up to six weeks after antibiotics are taken.

Now add two ear infections a year, for three years, and that is a total of up to nine months of partial hearing loss for your child. Shocking isn’t it?

How speech is affected

This partial hearing loss impacts your child’s speech development and is actually one of the leading causes of the need for speech therapy intervention in typically developing children.

Specifically though, middle ear infections make it difficult for your child to hear high-frequency sounds such as consonants, especially those at the end of words such as ‘bat’ or ‘back’. Short words such as ‘to’, ‘but’ or ‘and’ are also difficult to hear.

It is not only speech that is affected. This hearing loss can also cause children to become fidgety because they’re bored in class. They might start feeling as though they’re not so clever and their self-esteem might take a dive, their reading skills will be affected, and they won’t be able to follow instructions because they can’t hear them clearly.
How to recognise middle ear infection

When your child isn’t moaning from pain that is commonly associated with such infections, other signs to be on the lookout for include different or strange responses to everyday language or directions; rubbing or pulling ears; having difficulty with balance; turning the TV louder than usual; frequently needing to have instructions repeated; talking less than usual; using gestures rather than words; and delays in speech and development.

Middle ear emergency kit

Now that you know how serious middle ear infection can be, there are ways in which you can help your child to maximise their ability to understand speech when they get one of these common infections.

Think of it as an‘emergency kit’ with the idea being to structure your child’s environment in a way that helps them to listen and learn:
  • Get your child’s attention before you begin talking by calling their name, tapping their shoulder and saying ‘look at me’.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to help convey meaning.
  • Physically get down to your child’s level.
  • Emphasise word endings that may be difficult for your child to hear.
  • Reduce background noise, such as television or radio.
  • Reduce movement and physical activity while you’re talking to your child to ensure their full attention is on you and what you’re saying.
This will help your child to understand as much speech as possible while their hearing returns to normal, and minimise any negative effects on language and learning opportunities.

Does your child suffer from ear infections? How are you treating the problem?
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