Otitis media (OM) leads to significant reduction in the hearing sensitivity. The reduced auditory input, if in the early years of life when the auditory neural system is still maturing, may adversely influence the structural as well as functional development of the system. Past research has reported abnormalities in both the structure and function of brainstem nuclei following auditory deprivation, but, it has not necessarily focused on children who had OM in their first year of life. It can also be said that if auditory processing is affected at the brainstem level because of early onset OM (reduced auditory input in the crucial periods of neural development), then, it may be said that auditory processing is also affected at the cortical level because it receives distorted input from the brainstem. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to document the effects of early onset OM on auditory processing, if any, at the brainstem as well as at cortical levels. A related purpose of the study was to investigate the persistence of the effects of early onset OM, if any, on auditory processing.
A cross sectional approach and a standard group comparison design was used in the study. Thirty children, who had OM between 6 and 12 months of age and who were in the age range of 3.1 – 5.6 years participated in the study. Children with OM were divided into 3 groups based on their age. Click evoked auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) and late latency responses (LLRs) were recorded from these children, and the responses were compared with those from age and gender matched normal children without any history of OM. The data from the 2 groups was statistically analyzed through independent t test. Pearson's Product Moment correlation was computed to examine the relationship between results of ABR and LLR in children with early onset OM.
The mean central conduction time was significantly increased and the mean amplitude of wave I and III of ABRs was significantly reduced in children with early onset OM compared to normal children. Also, the latency of all LLR waves was significantly less in children with early onset OM than in normal children. However, significant differences in mean values of either ABR or LLR (latencies or interwave intervals as the case may be) were observed only in 3-year old children. There was a significant, but negative association between central conduction time and latency of LLRs.
OM in the first year of life leads to negative effects on brainstem signal processing even if it has occurred only for a short duration (maximum of 3 months). In such a situation, auditory cortical structures probably show compensatory changes through central gain to offset the prolonged central conduction time. Although the results of the present study showed that the negative effects of early onset OM (occurring in the first year of life) on auditory processing disappeared by the time the children were 4.1 years, there is need for longitudinal studies on this to confirm the findings.