A child who's acting up may have plugged ears.
"Fluid trapped behind the eardrum is the most common cause of reversible hearing loss in children," says Joshua Gottschall, MD, chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. "Parents are often surprised and feel guilty when they find out that what they thought was a listening or behavior problem is actually a hearing problem." Many times, fluid builds up even when there hasn't been an ear infection: "The child feels fine, so it goes unchecked until there's a problem with delayed speech."
When your child does have an ear infection, it usually clears quickly and causes no lasting damage to hearing. (Meningitis, a source of permanent deafness, is now rare, thanks to the pneumococcal vaccine.) But sometimes fluid remains months after the pain and fever subside, and a child misses out on a long stretch of key listening opportunities.