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Effects of otitis media with effusion on speech perception and production in preschoolers

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posted on 2024-02-28, 05:39 authored by Mareike Sahling

Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) is one of the most common pediatric infections, affecting as many as 80 - 90% of children at least once before they enter primary school. During OME, a fluid build-up, or effusion, in the middle ear cavity often leads to a mild-to-moderate, conductive hearing loss, which can last for a few days to over three months. Children who periodically experience OME have inconsistent access to the acoustic signal, which potentially disturbs language acquisition. This dissertation investigates the effects of OME and the associated hearing loss on speech perception and production in preschoolers from 3 to 5 years of age, combining clinical and psycholinguistic methods to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between OME and linguistic development. 

Chapter 2 describes an eye-tracking study that used a frequency-based stimulus attenuation method to investigate effects of simulated, OME-associated hearing loss on word recognition, disambiguation, and retention in 3-year-old children. Children with simulated hearing loss showed a lower ability to recognize familiar labels, as well as to disambiguate and retain novel labels compared to children without simulated hearing loss. These findings suggest that mild-to-moderate hearing loss, as frequently experienced by children with OME during periods of effusion, disturbs the ability to recognize and learn words, explaining the smaller vocabularies compared to children without OME. 

The study described in Chapter 3 focuses on speech production in children with OME by comparing phonological impairments in 3- to 5-year-old children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) with and without concomitant OME. The probability of productive phonological errors was higher in children with only DLD compared to children with DLD and concomitant OME, suggesting different etiologies of DLD between groups. The results converge in the notion that restrictions in accessing the language input in children with OME potentially act as a trigger for DLD, hereby highlighting the relevance of OME as a risk factor for linguistic development.  


Table of Contents

General introduction -- Does simulated conductive hearing loss affect preschoolers’ learning and recognition of words? -- Do phonological errors in developmental language disorder depend on children’s history of otitis media with effusion? -- Building a phoneme inventory through blocked ears: the effects of prior otitis media with effusion on children’s phoneme discrimination -- General discussion -- Ethics approval


The work reported in this thesis was undertaken first at the University of Potsdam (2019 – 2022), and then at Macquarie University (2022 – 2023). Additional Supervisor 3: Claudia Männel

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

School of Psychological Sciences

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Anne Benders

Additional Supervisor 1

Lyndsey Nickels

Additional Supervisor 2

Natalie Boll-Avetisyan


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




229 pages

Former Identifiers

AMIS ID: 277874

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