Maintaining good ear health

Your baby can hear with one ear. This is an asset that must be protected. There are three additional issues that may have an impact on hearing in either ear through your child's life:

Ear wax

The ear naturally produces wax (or cerumen) to protect the ear canal. Ears are usually self-cleaning. The wax and dirt move away from the ear drum to the opening of the ear canal and the wax can be removed with a damp cloth.

Sometimes there is a build up of wax in the ear canal and it blocks sound from reaching the ear drum. This will make it more difficult for your child with UHL to hear. A build up of wax in young children is usually only noticed during routine ear examinations at the doctor or audiologist.

Ear drops that soften the wax are available from the chemist and this may be all that is needed. Do not insert any foreign objects into the ear canal!

Always visit your GP if you are concerned.

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Ear infections

Ear infections are common in young children and can cause temporary hearing loss and impact on speech development and learning.

Ear infections can occur in the outer ear (otitis externa) or the middle ear (otitis media).

  • Otitis externa is an inflammation of the outer ear. The infection may be bacterial or fungal. The outer ear is often painful and sensitive to touch and your child may have a temperature. Otitis externa may affect hearing if it persists.
  • Acute otitis media is a bacterial inflammation of the middle ear. Fluid builds up behind the ear drum causing pain and possible fever. 
  • Otitis media with effusion or 'glue ear' occurs when fluid remains trapped behind the ear drum. A child with glue ear may have no symptoms but the doctor can see the fluid during an ear examination. If the fluid remains in middle ear for a long time or returns frequently, it can affect a child's hearing.

Preventing ear infections
While you may not be able to prevent ear infections, you can certainly reduce your child's risk of ear infections.

  • Immunise against pneumococcal disease. This is a major cause of otitis media. Children with a pneumococcal middle ear infection will have a temperature and ear pain and can be quite irritable. Most pneumococcal infections can be prevented with vaccines. The pneumococcal conjugate (7vPCV) vaccination is part of the routine immunisation schedule for babies at 2, 4 and 6 months.10
  • Wash your hands to prevent the spread of the germs that cause colds and flu.
  • Avoid smoking. Babies exposed to smoking have more ear infections.11

Treating ear infections
Mild infections can be treated with paracetomol (such as Panadol). See your family doctor if your child:

  • Has a high fever or bad earache
  • Has an ear discharge that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Seems to be getting worse or you are worried at any time.

If you are worried about your child's hearing, arrange an appointment with your family doctor (GP). Your GP will examine your child's ears and should be able to tell if glue ear is present. If there is any pain or sign of infection your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Your GP may want to wait to see if the glue ear clears up by itself before referring your child to an ENT specialist.12

Noise

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) in an increasing problem in society. "The effect of noise is cumulative, based on frequency of participation, total time of exposure and intensity of the sound (level in decibels). If you need to raise your voice or shout in order to be understood in background noise, then the noise has the potential to damage hearing.12" Of particular concern to hearing professionals is the impact of noisy leisure activities on hearing. Your child with UHL needs to be taught from an early age about protecting their hearing from hazardous levels of noise.

Children learn from observing their parents. Start today to protect your hearing so your child will learn from your example.

Protecting you and your child from noise

  • Educate your child from the early years on the importance of ear protection.
  • Turn down the volume when listening to music in a confined space.
  • Turn down the volume on personal stereo headsets. The volume of a personal stereo should be at a level where you can still hear someone speaking to you an arm's length away. Use of noise-cancelling headphones can also help to eliminate external background noise and allow the MP3 player to be played at lower volume.
  • Be aware of equipment around the home that is loud and potentially damaging to hearing, e.g., lawnmower, leaf blower, hair dryer and toys.
  • Always wear hearing protectors when carrying out noisy tasks and help to develop good habits in your children from the early years.

Next: Understanding UHL - Listening devices

09-Dec-2015 5:51 PM (AEST)