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Preschool Education Articles

Ear Infection: A Problem For Kids And Caregivers

Middle-ear infection is the most common medical problem for preschool children. Often, the caregiver is the first person to notice the subtle signs of hearing loss that may indicate a middle-ear infection. You may notice that the child is not following verbal directions. Or, the child may pay too much attention to visual clues. Notice, too, if the child begins talking louder, responds inappropriately to sounds, or is irritable. Also, when a child is not developing speech at a normal rate, hearing loss can be the cause. These are all clues that the Eustachian tube is not functioning properly and that there is fluid instead of air in the middle ear.

Sometimes ear infections last only a week or two. At other times, they last for many weeks and become chronic. Children with allergies may develop a fluctuating loss, sometimes hearing and sometimes not. These children often become frustrated and may show behavior problems. Whenever you suspect that a child may have a hearing problem, notify the parents so they can take the child to a doctor. Carefully kept observation notes help both parents and the physician. Prompt medical attention is important.

To learn to speak, a child must first hear. Hearing is vital to language development. Acquiring language is one of the most important tasks of the preschool child. Even a slight loss of hearing will affect language development. Although middle-ear infection is only one possible cause of hearing loss, it accounts for more than 90 percent of hearing problems in children under the age of six.

If you suspect that a child is not hearing well, here are some guidelines to use:

1. Use the child's name to gain attention before talking to the child.

2. Keep within three feet of the child when you speak.

3. Maintain eye contact by being at the child's eye level.

4. Don't talk to the child's back; you may not be heard.

5. When it is noisy, expect the child to have more trouble hearing you and give the child extra cues.

6. Keep light on the speakers face and not shining into the child's eyes.

7. Be certain the parent knows that you are concerned. Ask the parent to seek a medical opinion.

Caregivers are extremely important in young children's language development. Be alert to possible hearing losses!

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Smith, R. (1992). Ear infection: A problem for kids and caregivers. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 1(4), pp. 6p;7. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

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