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Chronic infant ear infections may hinder speech development

Chronic infant ear infections may hinder speech development

Although ear infections are common in infants, frequent and severe ear infections can lead to other health problems.


Three-fourths of babies will get at least one ear infection before they reach their first birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But Dr. Andrew Hotaling, pediatric otolaryngologist at Loyola University Health System, says parents may want to consider ear tubes if their baby gets three ear infections in six months or four in one year.

Ear tubes are tiny cylinders that are placed through the ear drum to allow air into the middle ear. Short-term ear tubes are smaller and typically stay in place for six months to a year before falling out on their own, while long-term tubes are larger and secured with flanges. Long-term tubes may fall out on their own, but it may be necessary for an otolaryngologist – an ear, nose, and throat doctor – to remove them.

“When a baby or child has chronic ear infections that do not go away, putting in tubes is usually an appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Hotaling. “It is a common outpatient procedure, requiring anesthesia, and takes less than 15 minutes. The child goes home in less than an hour.”

Inserting ear tubes may reduce the risk of future ear infections and restore hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid.

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If the ear infections are frequent and severe, it is possible that baby’s speech can be delayed.

“Hearing disorders can lead to impediments in speech development and other growth milestones,” Dr. Hotaling said. However, if baby is teething, it can cause confusion as to what the problem is, as teething pain can hit trigger points in the ears. Swollen gums, excessive drooling and mouthing of objects can indicate that a new tooth is coming in.

Symptoms of ear infection include pulling or tugging at ears, poor sleep, irritability, and fever.

Dr, Hotaling recommends prescribing antibiotics only if the ear infection cannot be cleared without them, since further harm can be caused if they are incorrectly administered.

In 2013, the AAP released a new set of guidelines to educate pediatricians and parents regarding the proper management of antibiotics for ear infections. The guidelines stressed that in many cases antibiotics should not be prescribed for an infection, and that infections caused by a virus would not respond to antibiotics.

[Photo credit: Dayna More / Shutterstock]