Temporary hearing loss
How common is this kind of temporary hearing loss in children?
Temporary hearing loss caused by ear infections is quite common, and is generally not a major cause for concern. However, some children have recurring ear infections that result in sustained hearing loss.
This hearing loss may occur every time the child has an ear infection, and may last a few weeks for each ear infection; however, if the child has many ear infections, the time with middle ear fluid could add up to many weeks or even months. Some children have middle ear fluid that never clears, in which case the hearing loss may last for several months in a row.
About one million children each year have tubes placed in their ears to help treat these ear infections or persistent middle ear fluid and the resulting temporary hearing loss.
Why should we be concerned about temporary hearing loss?
Very short periods of hearing loss caused by occasional ear infections shouldn’t cause your child any lasting problems. However, if your child has recurring ear infections or middle ear fluid that result in several months of hearing loss, he may begin to experience delays in speech development and learning.
How do ear infections cause temporary hearing loss?
Ear infections can result in a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. This fluid increases pressure on the eardrum and does not allow it to vibrate normally, which can make it hard for your child to hear.
What causes ear infections?
The middle ear is a cavity filled with air located just behind the eardrum. Middle ear infections are usually a result of problems with the eustachian tube, a canal that links the middle ear with the back of the nose.
The eustachian tube helps to equalize the pressure between the outer ear and the middle ear. When this tube is not working properly as a result of swelling caused by a cold or allergies, or because the muscles that open and close it are immature, it prevents normal drainage of fluid from the middle ear, causing a buildup of fluid behind your child’s eardrum.
When this fluid cannot drain, bacteria and viruses can thrive in the middle ear. In many cases, even after the infection is gone, some fluid may remain in the ear.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss?
Parents are typically the first to notice that their child isn’t hearing well. If you are concerned about your child’s hearing or speech development, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
Here are a few signs to look out for concerning language development:
- Your child does not respond to sound at any age.
- Your baby doesn’t make sounds and speak in “baby talk” or babble by 6 months.
- Your baby does not babble or make simple sounds or respond to his name by 9 months.
- Your baby does not understands simple instructions and or say a few words by 12 months.
- Your baby does not understand simple commands, repeat words and sentences, try to string 2 words together or use language to name some objects by 18 months.
- Your child does not say many words, say at least a few two-word sentences, respond to more complex commands, and quickly and consistently learn new words by 24 months.
Most cases of temporary hearing loss in young children are caused by middle ear infections. Your child might have an acute ear infection if he has one or more of the following symptoms:
- unusual irritability
- difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- tugging or pulling at one or both ears
- fluid draining from ear(s)
- loss of balance
- hearing difficulties
- ear pain
- nausea and vomiting
- decreased appetite
Children with chronic middle ear fluid often have no acute symptoms, but can still have hearing loss, speech and language delay.
Are there any other complications associated with the temporary hearing loss caused by ear infections?
As a result of sustained periods of hearing loss, your child could experience delays in speech and language development and learning.
What is the long-term outlook for my child?
Most children with temporary hearing loss caused by recurring ear infections or persistent middle ear fluid can be helped with placement of tympanostomy tubes. These tubes ventilate the middle ear space and drain middle ear fluid, which helps prevent future infections and in most cases restores hearing.