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Special Education Articles: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Articles: One in Ten Children Suffer with Fluid in their Ears

One in Ten Children Suffer with Fluid in their Ears

By Anne Colledge

One in ten children suffer with fluid in the ear, one in one thousand children have a profound hearing loss, but the latter gets the lion’s share of the attention. Yet in the thirty years I worked as a teacher for hearing impaired children I found that many educational problems for children were caused by mild hearing losses. When I did a speech test on children with these problems they heard only half of the words in the test. They would only hear half that was said to them in conversation, or at school or nursery. If we sent our children to school for half the day we would quickly get into trouble.

What is fluid in the ear? The middle ear should be filled with air. When we swallow the eustation tube should open and air goes into the middle ear which allows the ear to work properly. In children the eustation tube is shorter and often becomes blocked. Fluid, like glue, builds up and hearing is poor. Fluid in the ear is most common in children under four years of although older children also suffer with it as do adults.

Why has little attention been paid to mild hearing losses? Often they are intermittent. This is disturbing for the child. Imagine hearing well one day and poorly the next. Teachers say, “He hears when he wants to.”

How can we tell when a child has a hearing loss? Parents are good observers of their own children. Does your child look anxiously at your face as if trying to lip read? Do they understand questions in a noisy place, such as at the nursery? Call your child’s name when they are watching TV. Do they respond? Are they withdrawn or disruptive? Hearing problems lead to both ends of the spectrum. I think the disruptive do better as they demand attention, and get their problems sorted out.

Young children, under four, are most at risk for fluid in their ears leading to poor hearing. Notice any delay language. Do not wait and see what happens, get a hearing test anyway. If there is no problem your mind will be at rest. Otherwise time is wasted. Time is very important to a child. There is an optimum time for learning to speak. Why delay? No one wants to face up to problems. We all put things off. “His older sister is speaking for him,” we say. Get a hearing test anyway. I have heard people say, “They will catch up.” This is true but children have a lot to learn in a short space of time. Why should they have other stresses added to this when we can help them? See a doctor.

Often glue ear goes away by itself in time, but a doctor needs to be consulted to make sure that an infection does not start up in the fluid, and antibiotics may be needed to make sure the infection does not spread down the ear, which is an ideal place for germs to grow. If the fluid does not go grommets, small tubes, are inserted in the eardrum to allow air in. During the time when the child has a hearing loss much can be done to mitigate the effects on development and education.

Fine the optimum distance for your child to hear. Get as close as you need to and teach the child to get close to the person speaking. Cut down background noise. Switch off the TV. Explain the hearing problems to the school or nursery.

When my grandson came to stay with me recently we noticed he was a slow talker but we were not too worried about this. He was also rather quiet, but we thought that was his nature. However, I noticed he was tapping me to get attention and at two could not say many words. He was getting frustrated. His parents took him for a hearing test and were told he had a bad hearing loss caused by fluid in his ears. We began to get down to his level to speak to him and allow him to lip read. We did not call to him from another room. He soon lost his anxious look and became more out going. Luckily, the fluid cleared itself in a few months. The intervention helped him a lot in the meantime.

He visited again recently and was able to say, “I’m very tired.” It was wonderful because he was able to tell us what the problem was. “Biscuit, please,” he said later and did not have to point and I did not have to get lots of things out of the cupboard to try and guess what he wanted. This is the difference between a mild hearing loss which has been recognized and dealt with. It takes the frustration out of family life at home and helps the child at school or nursery.

If in doubt about a child’s hearing always get advice from your doctor and get a hearing test done. Hearing problems are not simple. Take expert advice on them. A child’s development is very important at every stage. It must not be held up when we can do something to help.


Anne Colledge was educated at Homerton College, Cambridge, UK and has an honours degree in Psychology and English. Anne taught deaf children for over 30 years. She has five grandchildren, two in the UK and three in the USA. She enjoys kayaking, and cycling.

Anne Colledge is the author of Northern Lights, a book of short stories for children, where the hero is a boy who is deaf. In each story a different aspect of deafness is introduced.

Email: Anne.Colledge@btinternet.com
Website: http://members.tripod.com/annecol/grid1page1.html

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