Serous Otitis Media (SOM) or fluid behind the ear drum, can affect people at any age. Now that allergy season is upon us (not that it is ever very far away in this area) more people are suffering hearing loss from this problem.
Most adults know when they have a problem hearing, but
children have a special problem with ear fluid. Frequently hearing loss is their only symptom. The hearing loss occurs because the eardrum is like a bass drum --- if you fill it with water it will not work.
Children do not usually complain of any symptoms but their school work may deteriorate. An alert teacher or parent may notice a decreased attention span.
In younger children middle ear fluid is even more difficult to diagnose. Parents may notice slow speech development or poor pronunciation. A baby who cries allot and pulls at their ears may have fluid.
Normally the space behind the eardrum, called the middle ear, is filled with air. This air gets into the middle ear by coming up the Eustachian tube which opens high in the throat, right behind the nose. Anything which blocks the entrance to this tube can make the ear fill with fluid. In children large adenoids as well as allergic swelling or infection and (rarely) tumors can all cause Eustachian tube blockage.
In adults the most common causes are allergic swelling and Infection.
An ear examination by a physician can identify fluid behind the ear and it is sometimes necessary to do a hearing test as well to measure the amount of hearing loss.
Fortunately, ear fluid can usually be treated with medication and by treating the underlying cause (allergy, infection, large adenoids etc.). If this is not successful at restoring normal hearing, it may be necessary to place tiny ventilation tubes (called PE tubes)through the eardrum to let the fluid out. This type of surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis.
Hearing loss which affects speech and learning in children is a serious problem. Because of the lack of other symptoms associated with SOM it is important for parents to be aware of this potential problem and to have their child checked by a physician if they suspect hearing problems.
Dr. Douglis is a Board Certified specialist in Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose, and Throat). He attended the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine and completed his specialty training at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He has practiced medicine in Montgomery County Texas and the Houston area since 1982.