Identifying the signs of ear infections

Approximately two-thirds of children get at least one middle-ear infection (otitis media) by age 3, and one-third of these children will experience at least three episodes. The earlier a child gets their first ear infection, the more susceptible they are to recurrent episodes. Recurring ear infections can play a large role on a child's speech and language development.

Although many children show signs of ear infection with a fever, others are "silent" and may have fluid build up or inner ear pressure without the typical signs of an ear infection. In a recent ASHA blog post, I helped other clinicians see the hidden signs of ear infection - learn how you can identify possible ear infections in your children with these helpful hints below.

  • Ear tugging: I find this to be one of the most common sign of a “silent” ear infection. Many times, I notice children swat, pull or tug at their ears. Children will also place toys up by their ear. 
  • Sleepless nights: If you notice your child’s sleep schedule is off, and/or you notice an increase in crying, this could also signal an ear infection.
  • Bedtime blues: If you note your child gets upset when they lie down, this might mean they feel pressure or fluid build-up within the middle ear and Eustachian tube.
  • Tummy troubles: Vomiting, diarrhea or diminished appetite may point toward ear infection.
  • “Huh? What?”: If your child repeatedly asks “huh?” or “what?”, ignores you, or does not responds to sounds they typically attend to, your child could have hearing loss due to an ear infection.
  • Drainage: If you see fluid or pus exiting the ear canal, your child might have a perforated eardrum. In this case, the pressure build-up was so great that it burst through the eardrum.
  • Decreased clarity: For children with recurring ear infections, you often notice more “mumbled” speech during an ear infection episode. Their speech intelligibility often decreases during episodes.

Jody Vaynshtok

Jody is a California-licensed speech language pathologist with eight years of industry and clinical experience. She has worked with both adult and pediatric populations during her time at private practice, birth-to-three, and hospital facilities. She is experienced in the assessment and treatment of a variety of communication and cognitive disorders. In addition, Jody has a passion for working with adults looking to achieve clearer communication. Jody received her BS in Speech and Hearing Sciences and MS in Medical Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Washington. She was a part of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford’s cleft and craniofacial clinic participating in the multidisciplinary assessment and treatment of children born with craniofacial abnormalities. She holds a staff position at UCSF and is the lead speech language pathologist for the department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery’s Hearing Loss Clinic. When she's not busy having fun with her clients Jody enjoys spending time with her husband, Anton, friends and family. And if she's not headed out somewhere fun for dinner, you might find her at Bar Method working out!