Correlation between serous otitis and speech and language delay

Rūta Prosevičiūtė1, Simona Petkutė1, Alina Kuzminienė2

1Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Academy of Medicine, Faculty of medicine

2Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Academy of Medicine, Department of Otorhinolaryngology


Introduction: Scientific reports state that otitis media is mainly prevalent in humans and extremely rare in other mammals. Evolutionary loss of facial prognathism could be the cause of it. Facial flattening in humans was linked to the development of speech. Therefore, it could result in altered anatomy and functional parameters of the palatine muscles. Functional changes of these muscles could cause the reduction of Eustachian tube function and a higher risk of middle ear infections in childhood. This suggests that children with speech and language delay (SLD) should be less susceptible to any type of otitis.

Aim and methods: The study aimed to evaluate and compare the mean rate of otitis media with effusion (OME) in children in the groups of normal and delayed speech and language function. The research data were obtained retrospectively from clinical records of the 2-6-year-old patients who were examined in 2018 in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Hospital of Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Kaunas clinics. Information about the functional state of the ear and hearing, speech and language delay, and middle ear effusion were gathered and evaluated using statistical analysis.

Results: The study involved 429 children. 131 of them arrived for hearing evaluation after being diagnosed with speech and language delay. Middle ear effusion was detected in clinical records or present in 14 of them (11%). Among patients who contacted otorhinolaryngologists for other reasons and did not have impaired speech development, serous otitis was diagnosed in 87 out of 298 cases (29%). Negative statistical correlation between speech and language delay and middle ear effusion was detected (r = -0.201, p < 0.001).

Discussion: Children with SLD showed a significantly lower rate of OME. These findings are in concordance with the theory of evolutionary loss of facial prognathism leading to altered palatine muscles and an elevated OME rate in the normal speaking population.

Keywords: middle ear effusion, serous otitis, speech and language delay, Eustachian tube.