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Middle Ear Fluid in Young Children, Part I

This article was put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Middle Ear Fluid in Young Children. It's very comprehensive. Of course, it deals with otherwise healthy children ages 1 - 3 yrs., and does not address the special considerations of cleft affected children, but it's interesting reading nonetheless.

Middle Ear Fluid in Young Children
by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Summary: This article is about middle ear fluid in children ages 1 through 3 who have no other health problems. The article addresses the causes of middle ear fluid, the tests for fluid, the types of treatment and how to work with your child's health care provider to find the best solution for your child.

Another name for middle ear fluid is otitis media with effusion. Some people also call it "glue ear." Otitis media means middle ear inflammation, and effusion means fluid.


About the Ear and Hearing

The ear has three parts-the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the part outside the head and the ear canal. The eardrum is a small circle of tissue about the size of a fingertip at the end of the ear canal. The middle ear is the space, usually filled with air, behind the eardrum. When a child has middle ear fluid, this is where it is found. A small tube-the eustachian tube-connects the middle ear to the back of the nose. Three tiny bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes) connect the eardrum through the middle ear to the inner ear. The inner ear is further inside the head ear, and is important for hearing and balance.

In a healthy ear, sound waves travel through the ear canal and make the eardrum move back and forth. This makes the three bones in the middle ear move. The movement of these bones sends sound waves across the middle ear to the inner ear. The inner ear sends the sound messages to the brain. But if the middle ear has fluid in it, then the eardrum and the bones cannot move well. This could cause your child to have trouble hearing.

What is Middle Ear Fluid?

If your child has middle car fluid, it means that a watery or mucous-like fluid has collected behind the eardrum. Many children get middle ear fluid during their early years. But middle ear fluid is not the same as an ear infection.

What Causes Middle Ear Fluid?

Here are some things that may cause middle ear fluid to happen in your child. There is no one cause for middle car fluid. Often, your child's health care provider will not know what caused the middle ear fluid.

Why Should I Be Worried About Middle Ear Fluid?

Most health care providers and parents worry that a child who has middle ear fluid in one or both ears may have trouble hearing. Experts do not know how much middle ear fluid affects hearing. Experts are not sure if hearing loss form middle ear fluid can cause delays in learning to talk, and sometimes later on, problems with school work. They do not know for sure what the long-term effects of middle ear fluid are.

How Can Middle Ear Fluid Be Prevented?

Recent studies show that children who live with smokers and who spend time in group child care have more car infections.

Because some children who have middle ear infections later get middle ear fluid, you might help prevent middle ear fluid by:

How Do I Know If My Child is Affected By Middle Ear Fluid?

Sometimes a child with middle ear fluid does not hear well. The most common complaint of parents whose child has middle ear fluid is that the child turns the sound up too loud or sits too close to the television set. Or sometimes the child does not seem to be paving attention.

Speak to your child's health care provider if you are concerned about your child's hearing. Often, middle ear fluid is found at a regular check-up.

Your child's health care provider may use the first two tests below to check for in middle ear fluid.

Source: The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, AHCPR Publication No. 94-0624 July 1994

Related Article: Middle Ear Fluid in Young Children, Part II

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