Medical Q&As

Deafness with a cold - what to do?

My two and a half year old has had a heavy cold and cough now for over a week. Although she doesnít seem to have an earache her hearing seems to have been affected. She canít hear unless we shout and keeps asking for the volume on the TV to be turned up. She has had no problems with her hearing up till now, as her speech is perfect. Is this normal after a cold or should I get her checked out.

It is very common for young children to experience temporary deafness as a result of head colds. The problem is centred in the middle ear where mucous accumulates. This material is identical to the mucous that dribbles from the childís runny nose. The mucous clogs up the middle ear and interferes with the transmission of the sound wave from the middle ear to the inner ear. The effect is almost like plugging the ear with cotton wool. Mucous is a viscous fluid and it can hamper the movement of the tiny bones or ossicles in the middle ear that play a vital role in sound transmission. The fluid normally dries up as the infection resolves and it is not unusual for a child to experience some hearing loss for up to two weeks. Wax can also contribute to hearing loss because the wax in the outer ear can also physically reduce the transmission of sound. Since your child is still affected by the cold I think it is reasonable to wait a few more days to give the problem an opportunity to resolve spontaneously. However, if the childís hearing were still reduced towards the end of the week I would bring her to your GP for assessment.