Hidden Hearing Loss Q&A

Why is having fluid in your ears a problem?

Dr. Maxwell: Fluid is a problem because it gives you hearing loss. Every child that has fluid in the ears has some sort of hearing loss. It may be mild, it may be more, but everyone with fluid has hearing loss. Additionally, if fluid stays in your ears long enough, it can cause erosion or subtle dissolving-away of the fine, little ear bones that conduct the sound from outside to the inner ear. So over a long period of time it can create a big problem.

Where does the fluid come from?

Dr. Maxwell: The fluid comes from the skin lining of the middle ear. The skin lining in the middle ear is like the skin anywhere in your body. If you abrade it, like say a rug burn, you get that clear fluid that bubbles up from under the skin. It’s the fluid that’s under a blister. This same kind of fluid bubbles up into the ear.

Do you have to have an ear infection?

Dr. Maxwell: Infections are not required for there to be hearing loss or problems associated with fluid in the ears. Fluid is what allows an infection to be present but an infection is not required for fluid. It’s actually the fluid that causes the hearing loss and not the infection. So millions of children have ear infections every year. It’s the most common reason that kids see a doctor, but fluid which may not have any symptoms associated with it at all is just as common.

Is this a hidden epidemic?

Dr. Maxwell: A hidden epidemic… I don’t know. Those are strong terms to use, but I think that there are certainly thousands and thousands of children that have ear fluid that don’t have symptoms that have hearing loss.

How can parents tell? Is there something they should know or be on the look out for?

Dr. Maxwell: I think if children listen to the television — they sit close to the TV or they require the television to be up loud, or the stereo, whatever they listen to — if it seems loud to Mom and Dad, they probably have hearing loss. Another good way to tell is if the kids don’t pay very much attention when they’re talked to, or you give them directions and they can’t follow them. A lot of people attribute that to a behavior problem, but they may not be able to hear. Even the most experienced doctors that look at ears every day are not 100 percent correct and are actually probably only 90 percent correct in making the diagnosis. If parents have any concern that their child is not behaving like they should or isn’t developing like they should, then they should have their hearing checked. As with any medical problem, early detection will save problems in the long run. I think once it’s discovered, it’s very easily treated and the hearing loss the kids have is 100 percent reversible. It’s a huge problem, but it can be fixed and that’s the good news.

Source: Ivanhoe @1999

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