Can You Hear Me Now? Ear Infections & Speech Development

Hearing is a crucial component to typical speech, language, and cognitive development, so children who have a history of frequent ear infections are at greater risk for language and articulation delays.

The first year of life is when your baby is really processing language. If fluid is present in the middle ear, then it can affect the acuity and sensitivity of hearing these sounds, syllables and words. Imagine walking around with cotton in your ears! Words and noises may be muffled, which does not provide an ideal model for typical speech and language. Thus, middle ear infections may increase the risk of delayed speech development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics provided a research study on 205 three-year old children. The study showed that children with prolonged periods of middle ear fluid, especially from 6 to 12 months, had lower scores on speech and language tests than those that did not.

Sometimes ear infections are unavoidable. However, in the early months, when hearing and language processing is most crucial, there are a few tips to reduce the risk of ear infections. Breastfed babies have a decreased chance of ear infections since their immune systems are generally stronger, and they are not lying flat when feeding (feeding in an elevated position is optimal due to the horizontal shape of the eustachian tube). If your baby is bottle-fed, be sure to hold him upright. A baby should not be given a bottle while lying on their back.

If your child has a history of ear infections and you are concerned there may be a delay in speech, consult with your pediatrician to determine if an evaluation is indicated or, check out our quick guide for sound acquisition. As always, early intervention (treatment before age 3) provides the best outcomes.