Toddler speech delay is becoming very common nowadays. And it is worrying parents.
Speech delay in toddlers – means that they do not speak as much or as clearly as other children their age do.
When a child does not speak on time – parents begin to look for reasons for it. And many parents ask the question –
Does ear wax cause toddler speech delay?
The answer is – Yes.
In some children ear wax is produced in large quantities and can accumulate in the ear to such an extent that it blocks the whole ear.
The wax blocks the ear in front of the ear drum – and because of this the sound waves cannot reach the ear drum.
Since hearing depends on the sound waves reaching the ear drum – the child is not able to hear properly.
And since the development of speech is dependent upon what the child can hear – the child may have speech delay.
How do ear issues lead to speech disorders?
The first 3 years are the critical period for speech and language development.
At this point the brain is developing and maturing rapidly.
And during this time the child needs an environment that is rich with the sounds of speech of adults to help her/his brain to mature.
How does Speech delay occur in toddlers –
- Speech delay occurs when the toddler does not have the chance to listen to lots of adults speaking. This can happen when the child is left alone for long periods during the day watching TV or playing with the mobile.
- Speech delay also occurs when the child cannot hear what the adults around her/him are saying because of ear issues. Conditions like ear wax, glue ear and burst ear drums can compromise the child’s ability to hear.
What are the normal milestones in speech and language development?
Ear issues that can cause speech delay
- Repeated ear infections
- Glue ear – accumulation of fluid in the ear.
- Wax in the ear
- Bilateral atresia – where the outer ear has not formed as an open canal. But is a closed tube which cannot pick up sounds
- Auditory processing disorder
- Hereditary hearing loss
How does ear wax cause toddler speech delay?
What is wax?
The canal of the ear – the part of the ear that we can look into from the outside – has various glands.
Wax is made up of
- The secretion from these glands
- Old dead skin from the ear canal
- Dirt make up wax.
Why do we have wax in the ear ?
Wax is a protective substance. It lubricates the ear canal and traps anything that happens to enter the ear canal. It protects the ear from bacterial and fungal infection. It also blocks the entry of insects and other foreign bodies.
Normally, only a small amount of wax is secreted, which dries up and later thrown out of the ear canal by the movements of the jaw.
In some cases the wax is not thrown out in the normal way. This happens for the following reasons –
- Just like some people sweat more the others, the activity of the ear glands also vary from person to person. Excessive wax may be secreted and deposited as a plug, in the canal.
- Some people may have a narrow and excessively curved ear canal
- Some may have stiff hair in the canal
- There may be other medical reasons like a lump in the canal or exostosis.
When wax cannot be thrown out – it dries up and hardens and gets stuck in the ear canal. This is called impacted wax.
What symptoms will you notice if your child’s ear has impacted wax?
- The child may not respond when you call out to her/him
- The child may not react to loud noises.
- A sensation of blocked ear may make the child irritable and uncomfortable.
- The child may not be very confident jumping or climbing because of a loss of sense of balance.
- The above symptoms may be aggravated every time water enters the ear during bathing or swimming and the wax swells up.
- When wax is left untreated for a long time – it may cause ulcers in the ear and further complications
Hardened wax – stuck in the ear canal can cause hearing loss leading to speech delay. This is especially common in children less than 6 yrs.
A child with hearing loss may have a defective speech and may do poorly in school
Treatment of wax in the ear
Wax is removed by the ENT surgeon while viewing the ear canal under the microscope.
The ENT surgeon removes the wax with an instrument or by syringing it out with a stream of water.
If the wax is too hard and stuck – drops may be given for 2 or 3 days to soften the wax before syringing it.
Do not try to remove wax on your own with ear buds or sharp instruments. Since the child’s ear canal is very small – you may end up damaging the ear canal or the ear drum.
How often should you get wax removed from your child’s ear?
Take your child to the ENT surgeon every 3 months for a check-up and removal of wax if it is there.
At this time the doctor can check for all the causes of hearing impairment so that speech is not delayed.
This article was written by Dr Debmita Dutta with inputs from Rashmi Natraj M.Sc Audiology.