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Chronic childhood ear infections can delay language development: Study

IANS Jan 23, 2024

Ear infections, a common childhood experience, can potentially impair hearing with fluid building up behind the eardrum and lead to delay in language development, warns a new study.

New research from the University of Florida scientists reveals that when ear infections become chronic, this repeated, temporary hearing loss can lead to deficits in auditory processing and language development in children, years later. They suggested parents take these infections seriously.

“Ear infections are so common that we tend to dismiss them as having no long-term effect. We should take all ear infections seriously,” said Susan Nittrouer, lead researcher and Professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences in the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the varsity.

“Parents should be aware that their child may have some middle ear fluid without it being painful and work with their doctor to monitor their child closely,” she added.

In the study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, the team studied the auditory processing and language development of 117 children aged 5 to 10 years, both with and without a history of chronic ear infections in early childhood.

On average, children with several ear infections before three years of age had smaller vocabularies and a harder time matching similar-sounding words than children with few or no ear infections.

They also had difficulty detecting changes in sounds, a sign of problems in their brain’s auditory processing centres.

One takeaway, Nittrouer says, is for parents, physicians, and speech pathologists to continue monitoring children long after the last preschool earache fades away. Some language deficits may only reveal themselves in later grades.

“As children go through school, the language they’re required to use becomes more complex,” said Nittrouer.

Treating ear infections early can help prevent the fluid buildup that hurts language development, according to Nittrouer.

If ear infections are common and fluid does build up, tubes placed temporarily in the eardrum can help drain the fluid and restore hearing, which should lead to less risk of delay in the development of the central auditory pathways and fewer problems acquiring language.

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