Otitis media, hearing loss, and language learning: controversies and current research

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004 Apr;25(2):110-22. doi: 10.1097/00004703-200404000-00007.


This article reviews research on the possible linkage of otitis media with effusion (OME) to children's hearing and development, identifies gaps, and directions for research, and discusses implications for healthcare practices. About half of children with an episode of OME experience a mild hearing loss while about 5-10% of children have moderate hearing loss. Recent prospective and randomized clinical trials suggest none to very small negative associations of OME to children's later language development. Based on both retrospective and prospective longitudinal studies, associations between OME and perceiving speech in noise and tasks that require equal binaural hearing have been reported but have not been adequately studied with regard to functional outcomes. Thus, on average, for typically developing children, OME may not be a substantial risk factor for later speech and language development or academic achievement. However, these conclusions should be interpreted cautiously, since most of these studies used OME rather than hearing loss as the independent variable (although hearing loss rather than OME is hypothesized to affect language development) and many studies did not control for important confounding variables such as socioeconomic status (SES).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Child
  • Hearing Loss / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Development
  • Language Disorders / etiology*
  • Language Therapy
  • Medical Assistance
  • Otitis Media with Effusion / complications*
  • Otitis Media with Effusion / surgery
  • Otitis Media with Effusion / therapy