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Ear Infections/Otitis Media

Otitis media, commonly called an ear infection, is the most frequent illness of early childhood except for the common cold. Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear. There are two types: (1) acute otitis media, an infection of the middle ear with accompanying fluid; and (2) otitis media with effusion, in which the middle ear fluid is not infected. Fluid in the middle ear can persist for several weeks or months after an infection is gone. Otitis media is more common in boys, children from low-income families, those exposed to tobacco smoke, bottle-fed children (compared to breast-fed children), and children who are under two years of age and attend child care. In most cases, otitis media is accompanied by mild to moderate hearing loss (equivalent to plugging one's ears with a finger), which goes away once the fluid resolves. Some studies have shown that frequent hearing loss in children with otitis media may lead to speech, language, and school difficulties. Other studies, however, have failed to find these associations. Researchers are still studying the otitis media developmental linkage. Special attention should be paid to the hearing and language development of children who have frequent otitis media.


Paradise, Jack. L., Christine A. Dollaghan, Thomas F. Campbell, Heidi M. Feldman, Beverly S. Bernard, Kathleen Colborn, Howard E. Rockette, Janine E. Janoky, Dayna L. Pitcairn, Diane L. Sabo, Marcia Kurs-Lasky, and Clyde G. Smith. "Language, Speech Sound Production, and Cognition in Three-Year-Old Children in Relation to Otitis Media in Their First Three Years of Life." Pediatrics 105 (2000):1119-1130.

Roberts, Joanne E., Margaret R. Burchinal, Sandra C. Jackson, Stephen R. Hooper, Jack Roush, Martha Mundy, Eloise Neebe, and Susan A. Zeisel. "Otitis Media in Early Childhood in Relation to Preschool Language and School Readiness Skills among African-American Children." Pediatrics 106 (2000):1-11.

Stool, Sylvan E., Alfred O. Berg, Stephen Berman, Cynthia J. Carney, James R. Cooley, Larry Culpepper, Roland Eavey, Lynne Feagans, Terese Finitzo, Ellen Friedman, et al. Otitis Media with Effusion in Young Children: Clinical Practice Guideline, Number 12. Rockville, MD: Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1994.

Joanne E. Roberts

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3