Childhood Ear Problems

Ear and hearing problems in childhood are common. Untreated hearing loss in one or both ears can have a significant impact on the child’s speech, language, academic, social and general development. Below is further information about the most common forms of childhood hearing loss.

Please contact us if you are concerned about your child’s hearing or if you require any further information.

Middle Ear Problems

The middle ear is a small, air-filled space behind the eardrum. It contains three tiny bones (ossicles) that transmit sound to the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose by the eustachian tube. In healthy ears, the eustachian tube opens briefly when we swallow or yawn and allows air to enter the middle ear cavity.

1. Middle Ear Infections

Middle ear infections usually occur after a cold, when the eustachian tube has been blocked and draining is affected.  Pain, fever and a mild transient hearing loss are the most common symptoms. Medical advice is recommended and your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics, or simply pain and fever management.

Children below the age of 5 years are at highest risk of middle ear infections because of frequent colds as well the small size and orientation of the eustachain tube. 

Other groups who remain at high risk of middle ear infections beyond this age are those with allergies and hay fever, those who live with smokers, those with a cleft palate or those with Downs syndrome.

2. Glue Ear

When the middle ear us inflamed, fluid is secreted from its lining tissue into the middle ear space. If this fluid is thick (glue-like) and does not resolve within 3 months it is called ‘glue ear’.  A mild hearing loss is most common, although moderate hearing loss is sometimes seen as a result.  You may notice problems with your child’s hearing when they are not facing you. They may be irritable, have slowed speech-language development or be off-balance in some cases. Medical advice is recommended, along with a hearing test.

If speech-language and other development seem unaffected, no treatment may be necessary.  Your GP will make referrals to a Paediatrician or an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon if there are concerns about the child’s development or if the glue ear persists for longer than 3 months.

With or without treatment, hearing tests are recommended once glue ear has resolved to ensure that hearing returns to normal.

Inner Ear Problems

A less common cause of childhood Hearing loss is due to problems of the inner ear (or the hearing nerve) and is also called sensorineural hearing loss.  Sensorineural hearing loss is most often permanent, and may change over time, depending on its cause.  If inner ear hearing loss is present with outer and/or middle ear hearing loss, it is called a Mixed hearing loss.

Automated hearing screening is offered to all babies born in WA before discharge from hospital. 

See Risk Factors for more information on which populations are at highest risk of childhood sensorineural hearing loss. 

Audiological treatment with hearing aids, cochlear implants (and/or other listening devices) is the most common treatment. A child with sensorineural hearing loss will also need to see a paediatric Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon and have regular hearing tests.

If sensorineural hearing loss is suspected, our Audiologists will make appropriate recommendations for further testing, treatment and medical investigations. 

Please contact us if you are concerned about your child’s hearing or if you require any further information.

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