If you're one of the many parents dealing with a toddler or preschooler's frequent ear infections, you may worry about the impact of these repeated infections on your child's hearing -- or even his or her ability to enunciate words. Toddler speech is notoriously rife with mispronunciation, lisping, and other harmless speech impediments, so determining what is normal and what may be the result of fluid in the ear can be a challenge, especially for first-time parents. How do you know when to intervene? Here is how ear infections can impact speech, as well as some of the signs you'll want to watch for to determine whether your child could benefit from intervention by a speech pathologist.
How do ear infections affect a toddler's speech development?
Because of the small size and narrow diameter of the Eustachian tubes in babies' and toddlers' ears, it can be hard for fluid within the ear to drain. Bacteria trapped in this fluid can flourish, leading to an ear infection; in other cases, this fluid may remain free of pathogens but still muffle sound, making it hard for a child to distinguish between certain words or noises.
Not all children who have fluid in their ears will show signs of an ear infection or even pain; because of this, it's important to be on the lookout for any signs of developing speech problems that might indicate a physical issue that needs to be resolved.
What are some signs that your toddler may be experiencing speech delays or other problems as a result of frequent ear infections or fluid within the ear?
There are a few fairly telltale signs that your child isn't fully absorbing all the sounds he or she is hearing. These signs include:
- A loss of speech or regression after your child has begun to speak;
- Difficulty getting your child's attention unless he or she can see your face to know you're speaking;
- Repeatedly asking "what?" (which can indicate that he or she didn't hear you) rather than "why?" (a much more common toddler question); and
- A seeming inability to understand what you're saying unless you're facing your child and he or she can see your lips.
Garbled speech or speech impediments at a young age are much more common -- and usually much less of a sign of hearing problems -- than a child who seems to have trouble hearing you when his or her head is turned or who has stopped speaking much at all. For more information, talk to a professional like Eastern Carolina Ear Nose & Throat-Head.