The Impact of Middle Ear Infections on Hearing in Children

Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, are prevalent among children, particularly those aged two to six years. While often treatable, these infections can significantly impact hearing, leading to a cascade of developmental and behavioural issues if not properly managed.

Middle ear infections occur when the space behind the eardrum, known as the middle ear, or glue ear, becomes filled with infected fluid. This condition is particularly common in young children because their eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat, are shorter and more horizontal, making them more prone to blockage and infection. Children also generally get more infections around the head and neck region. The condition is also commonly known as glue ear as the fluid that gets trapped has a glue-like consistency.

Hearing loss and developmental concerns

One of the most concerning effects of middle ear, or glue ear, infections is hearing loss. Fluid accumulating in the middle ear can impede sound transmission, leading to temporary hearing impairment. This hearing loss can cause many problems, particularly in young children in critical stages of speech and language development.

Children with frequent or prolonged middle ear infections may experience delays in speech development, as they cannot hear sounds clearly and accurately. This can also lead to behavioural changes, such as frustration and withdrawal, as children struggle to communicate and understand their surroundings.

In about half of the children affected by middle ear infections, the condition resolves spontaneously within approximately three months. However, for the remaining cases, specialist attention is often necessary. An ENT specialist can request an age-appropriate hearing test to assess the extent of hearing loss and determine the most appropriate treatment options.

Treatment options


One effective treatment for chronic middle ear infections is the insertion of grommets. A grommet is a small tube placed to sit astride the eardrum to ventilate the middle ear and equalise pressure with the atmosphere. This procedure, typically performed under general anaesthetic, is quick and allows most patients to leave the hospital the same day. Hearing improvements are often immediate or occur within a few days. Some children may require multiple grommet insertions when the grommets come out – they last between six to eighteen months..

Hearing aids

A hearing aid may be recommended in cases where grommets are not suitable, or the condition is particularly persistent. Some parents will also prefer hearing aids to having an operation. Hearing aids can help manage hearing loss until the infection resolves completely. These devices amplify sound, allowing children to hear more clearly and continue their speech and language development without significant interruption.

Long-term outlook and management

With proper treatment, most children recover from middle ear infections without lasting effects on their hearing. However, monitoring the condition and ensuring timely intervention if infections recur is crucial. Regular follow-ups with an ENT specialist can help manage ongoing issues and prevent potential complications.

Middle ear infections, or glue ear, can significantly impact a child’s hearing and overall development. Understanding the symptoms, seeking timely specialist care, and considering appropriate treatment options such as grommets or hearing aids are essential in managing this common condition. If your child is experiencing symptoms of a middle ear infection, get in touch with Mr Olarinde and book a consultation with a specialist to explore the best treatment options.