In Malaysia, there are approximately half a million cases of Otitis Media annually in children below two years old. Otitis Media is an infection of the middle ear, which happens when the Eustachian tubes are blocked with fluid, and subsequently become infected by bacteria or virus. When that happens, the fluid acts like a sponge, thus preventing your child’s ear from conducting sound properly. This interferes with normal hearing, and can cause your child to have less sensitive hearing, and in the long term may even cause permanent damage.
Otitis Media can be divided into three main types which are interrelated:
* OME normally follows after AOM, and prolonged OME may actually contribute to another bout of AOM; if left unchecked, this situation can spiral out of control and possibly lead to permanent damage to hearing, especially if the ear’s functions are interfered with for long periods of time.
Children below two are particularly susceptible to Otitis Media. While ear infections can happen to adults, it is more common in infants and young children. A child’s Eustachian tubes are narrower and shorter compared to an adult’s, so it’s easier for fluid to be trapped in the middle ear. When this happens, it can cause hearing loss.
The average hearing loss results in your child being unable to hear soft sounds; he/she won’t be able to hear you if you whisper to them. If the fluids in the middle ears are thicker, more hearing loss can be expected; your child may not be able to hear you when you talk to them at a normal volume. If your child is experiencing hearing loss, then he/she may be unable to understand certain words or phrases, or he/she may talk louder than normal.
Some children may be lucky enough to suffer no hearing loss, but most are not so fortunate. Normally, children who suffer from hearing loss due to Otitis Media can still hear muffled sounds, and they would have a tendency to misunderstand speech. There are cases of complete hearing loss, but these are less common.
Although the hearing loss may be temporary, the consequences can be very significant. Your child is at the stage where he/she is rapidly learning new skills, and even a mild, temporary hearing loss can cause significant delays in the progress of his/her speech and language development. He/She may permanently lose the ability to consistently understand what is being said in noisy environments like classrooms. In turn, this could lead to a delay in learning important speech and language skills.
After all, most children learn by mimicking others, and listening plays an essential role during their formative years when they are learning to talk. Even children who are schooling will find listening to be invaluable, and if they are not able to hear properly in classes, this could hinder their academic progress.
Prevention is still the best cure; here are some other actions you can take to prevent infections:
- Breastfeed your child – breast milk has antibodies that will protect your child from many types of diseases. Try to continue until your child is two years old to build up his/her immunity.
- Avoid cigarette smoke exposure – 2nd and even 3rd hand smoke is very harmful. It can cause your child to become more prone to infections as his/her immune system would be taxed by the exposure to the toxins in cigarette smoke.
- Good hygiene – practise good hygiene in order to minimise and prevent the transmission of bacteria which can cause infections.
- Early detection, early treatment – whenever your child has a common cold or flu, get him/her to a doctor as fast as possible.
One of the most effective ways to protect your child from Otitis Media is via immunisation. Inoculating your child with vaccines helps to greatly reduce the risk of ear infections. There are two main types of vaccines which address the majority of the infections that lead to Otitis Media:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine – available since 2002 in Malaysia’s National Immunisation Program.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) – this vaccine will safeguard your child from pneumococcal infections like Otitis Media, meningitis, bacteraemia, and sinusitis. It is a highly recommended vaccine that is presently only available in private hospitals and clinics.
However you decide to act, you must remain vigilant in monitoring your child as they grow, and if you suspect anything amiss, you should have your child’s hearing assessed.