Do ear infections affect speech development

Middle ear infections affect hearing in several ways. Some children’s hearing will not be affected at all, whereas other children may experience mild-moderate hearing loss. What does that mean in terms of what your child can hear? A mild hearing loss means that soft sounds like ‘s’, ‘sh’ and the last sound in words are not heard. A moderate hearing loss will further impact your child’s hearing resulting in most speech sounds and word endings not being heard.

How can the severity of this be explained? Imagine you have earplugs in or you are under water. When someone talks to you, you can hear some words but not everything. It will sound muffled. Sometimes if the person talks loud enough you will hear them, other times you will not hear them at all. This muffled sound is what your child may experience if they have an ear infection. Think about this logically, if your child is only a few years old, when exposure to language is vital, what they hear will impact on their understanding of language as well as how to correctly produce speech sounds.

Recent studies report that once an ear infection has been resolved, there can be fluid build up for up to 6 weeks. Each time a child has an ear infection they will experience temporary hearing loss with each bout. If you are like me, who had numerous ear infections at a young age, it can have significant impact on the development of speech and language skills.

What are some of the signs to look out for that ear problems may be affecting language development?

  • Not following directions

  • Not responding to familiar sound e.g. door closing

  • Appears to be ignoring you

  • Does not seem to pay attention

  • Sometimes their speech can be unclear

  • Using gestures rather than talking

What can you do to help?

  • Early identification of ear problems (look for keys signs such as child tugging on ears, touching ears, not responding to sounds, asking you to repeat)

  • If concerned, take your child to the doctor

  • If an infection is detected, ensure to interact with your child at their level, reduce background noise, use gestures and facial expressions to assist with conveying your message.

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