Otitis Media or ‘Glue Ear’ is the most common hearing problem in children. It is treatable and usually temporary and, if managed correctly, does not present a problem beyond childhood.
Otitis Media is an inflammation in the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) that is usually associated with the build-up of fluid, which may or may not be infected. Symptoms, severity, frequency, and duration of the condition vary. At one extreme is a single short period of thin, clear, non-infected fluid without any pain or fever but with a slight decrease in hearing ability. At the other extreme are repeated bouts with infection with thick “glue-like” fluid and possible hearing complications.
Fluctuating conductive hearing loss nearly always occurs with all types of Glue Ear, and is the most common cause of hearing loss in young children. Otitis Media is the most frequently diagnosed disease in infants and young children, largely due to their physiology. The Eustachian Tube, a passage between the middle ear and the back of the throat, is smaller and nearly horizontal in children compared with adults. Therefore, it can be easily blocked by conditions such as large adenoids and infections. Until the Eustachian Tube changes in size and angle as the child grows, children remain susceptible to Glue Ear.
Otits Media often causes a problem to hearing because when fluid is present the vibrations through the middle ear are not transmitted efficiently and sound energy is lost. The result may be mild to moderate hearing loss, causing speech to be muffled or even inaudible.
Generally, this type of hearing loss is temporary. However, when the condition occurs over and over again, damage can be caused to the eardrum and the bones of the ear, presenting a long-term problem.
Otitis Media will often affect children at a critical time in their development of speech and language, with possible consequences even beyond the time when the condition has been successfully treated. This is why we believe Otitis Media should be pro-actively managed, rather than simply leaving the child to “grow out” of the condition. The first few years of life are especially critical for development and if a hearing loss exists, a child does not get the full benefit of language learning experiences.
Otitis Media without infection can be difficult to detect because symptoms of pain and fever are not usually present. Therefore weeks, months or even years can go by before parents suspect a problem. During this time, the child may miss out on some of the information that can influence speech and language development.
Even if there is no pain or fever, there are other signs you can look for that may indicate chronic or recurring fluid in the ear:
- Wanting the television or radio louder than usual
- Misunderstanding directions
- Unexplained irritability
- Pulling or scratching at the ears