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Kristin Hayes, R.N.

Overcoming Development Delays Caused by Fluid in the Ear

By August 29, 2012

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Fluid in the ear goes by several names, glue ear, serous otitis media, and otitis media with effusion. All of these terms mean the same thing though, the middle ear space, which is normally filled with air fills up with fluid. This condition occurs when the auditory tube becomes blocked by overgrown sinus tissue, thick mucous or just because, anatomically, it is too close to other structures. Small children are much more prone to fluid in the ear.

While fluid in the ear can easily be treated using a minor surgery in which tiny synthetic tubes are placed inside the auditory tube to hold it open, fluid in the ear frequently causes delayed development in children because it is so difficult to diagnose. While the condition can sometimes be accompanied by frequent ear infections in many cases it produces no symptoms. In more difficult cases, like that of my daughter, it may produce symptoms but most doctors are not skilled enough to recognize the subtle changes in the appearance of the ear drum that indicate a problem. Despite specifically having her checked for fluid in the ear my daughter went undiagnosed until she was 2 1/2 not walking or talking and we took her to an extremely skilled ENT.

Fluid in the ear typically occurs at a time in a child's development when they are normally developing speech. Experts have recently found that when a child's hearing is impaired by fluid in the ear at this time in their development the nerves that carry auditory information from the inner ear to the brain can stop working. What is so discouraging is that this problem can persist even after fluid in the ear has been treated and there is currently no cure. While speech therapy is beneficial for many of these children developmental delay can be significant. That's why I was so excited to come across a story about an adult who suffered developmental delays as a child from fluid in the ear and how she overcame these challenges.

The news story, as it appears in the Hastings and Saint Leonard's Observer is about Hannah Scott who was born with fluid in the ear but went on to earn her PhD. As a child Scott was placed in a special needs school due to her severe speech delays, she didn't let it stop her though and went on not only to earn a PhD but to help others with special needs. Dr Scott said: "It has really been a battle for me and I have been fighting all the way to overcome these obstacles. Rather than accept them I retaliated, became obstinate and fought against them." The 34 year old woman who lives in England now lectures part time at a University to help students training to be special needs teachers.

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