Hearing loss in children not only impacts the sound experience of a life yet to be lived to the fullest, but it also creates a barrier to a child’s number-one job: learning. Fortunately, many causes of hearing loss are treatable, and it is often possible to return the sounds of childhood to a young life. At Rocky Mountain Hearing Aid Center, we treat patients of all ages, and we take particular pleasure in helping children with hearing loss, who have so much ahead of them to learn.
Categories of Hearing Loss That Affect Children
Unlike adults, hearing loss in children is most commonly conductive hearing loss, rather than sensorineural hearing loss. As with adults, hearing loss in children is measured in degrees: It can range from mild (one that causes difficulty hearing hushed tones such as a whisper) to moderate (where the child can still hear loud speech) to a complete loss of hearing.
Conductive Hearing Loss
The most common type of hearing loss in children is a conductive hearing loss associated with conditions in the external or middle ear that block the transmission of sound. In children these conditions are most typically otitis media, impacted cerumen, a perforated eardrum, or birth defects that alter the structure of the external auditory canal and/or middle-ear system. Most conductive hearing losses are medically treatable through antibiotics and/or surgery.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural loss is the second most common type of hearing loss, resulting from damage to the cochlea (inner ear) and the auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss in children is often congenital. Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss include ototoxic medications, premature birth, and illnesses. Sensorineural hearing loss is not medically treatable; however, in most cases, children can be helped with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Children
Signs of possible hearing loss in children range from not startling at loud sounds to speech delay to academic difficulties, depending on the age of the child.
- Not startling at loud noises
- Unable to localize sound
- Not showing normal speech development
Toddler and Older:
- Speech and language delays
- Academic difficulties/delays
- Needing louder than “normal” volume to hear television
- Needing multiple verbal repetitions
- Stating that he/she is having difficulty hearing
Childhood Hearing Screening
Many people consider hearing loss a simple consequence of aging. The reality, however, is that hearing loss knows no age limitations, affecting an estimated 48 million U.S. adults and children and more than 360 million people worldwide.
Two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing, making hearing loss the most common birth disorder. Many studies have shown that early diagnosis of hearing loss is crucial to the development of speech, language, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities. Treatment is most successful if hearing loss is identified early, preferably within the first month of life. Still, one in every four children born with serious hearing loss does not receive a diagnosis until age three or older.
When to Screen
The first opportunity to test a child’s hearing is in the hospital shortly after birth. If your child’s hearing is not screened before leaving the hospital, it is recommended that screening be done within the first month of life. Should test results indicate a possible hearing loss, seek further evaluation as soon as possible; preferably within the first three to six months of life.
Is Early Hearing Screening Mandatory?
In recent years, health organizations across the country, including the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, have worked to highlight the importance of screening all newborns for hearing loss. These efforts are working. Currently, more than 95 percent of all newborns in the United States were screened for hearing loss, up from 85 percent in 2003. In fact, all states have established a early hearing detection and intervention program and some 42 states have passed legislation requiring some form of hearing screening of newborns before they leave the hospital. There still are many babies who are not screened for hearing loss before leaving the hospital.
How Testing Works
Child hearing screening primarily involves two tests:
- Otoacoustic emissions testing: OAE involves placement of a sponge earphone in the ear canal to measure whether the ear can respond properly to sound. In normal-hearing children, a measurable “echo” should be produced when sound is emitted through the earphone. If no echo is measured, it could indicate a hearing loss.
- Auditory brain stem response: ABR is a more complex test. Earphones are placed on the ears and electrodes are placed on the head and ears. Sound is emitted through the earphones while the electrodes measure how your child’s brain responds to the sound.
If either test indicates a potential hearing loss, your physician may suggest a follow-up evaluation by an otolaryngologist.
Signs of Hearing Loss In Children
Hearing loss can also occur later in childhood, after a newborn leaves the hospital. In these cases, parents, grandparents, and other caregivers are often the first to notice that something may be wrong with a young child’s hearing. Even if your child’s hearing was tested as a newborn, you should continue to watch for signs of hearing loss including:
- Not reacting in any way to unexpected loud noises,
- Not being awakened by loud noises
- Not turning his/her head in the direction of your voice
- Not being able to follow or understand directions
- Poor language development
- Speaking loudly or not using age-appropriate language skills
Tell your doctor if your child shows any signs of hearing loss.
What Happens If My Child Has A Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss in children can be temporary or permanent. It is important to have hearing loss evaluated by a physician who can rule out medical problems that may be causing the hearing loss, such as otitis media (ear infection), excessive earwax, congenital malformations, or a genetic hearing loss.
Potential treatment may include one of these solutions or other options:
- Treatment of underlying causes such as ear infection, excess earwax, congenital malformations, or other issues.
- Hearing aids, which amplify the sound that reaches your child’s ear.
- Surgically implanted hearing technology such as cochlear implants, which bypass damaged parts of the auditory system and directly stimulates the hearing nerve and allows the child to hear louder and clearer sound.
You will need to decide whether or not your deaf child will communicate primarily with oral speech and/or sign language, and seek early intervention to prevent language delays. Research indicates that habilitation of hearing loss by age six months will prevent subsequent language delays. Other communication strategies such as auditory verbal therapy, lip reading, and cued speech may also be used in conjunction with a hearing aid or cochlear implant, or independently.
If you believe your child has a hearing loss, please call our office to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals. Timely hearing testing, diagnosis, and treatment will provide the best course of action, ensuring the highest-quality lifetime experiences for your child. Visit our child hearing screening page for more information.