Older adults aren’t the only ones who experience hearing loss: children of all ages can experience a loss of hearing. Roughly three out of 1,000 babies are born with hearing loss, and its prevalence is increasing in adolescents. Noise-induced hearing loss is largely responsible for this increase. If you suspect your child has difficulty hearing, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Delaying treatment can have a substantial effect on a child’s learning and development.
What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?
Congenital factors can contribute to children born with hearing problems due to genetic malformations, prenatal problems or premature birth. Otitis media (ear infection) is a widespread childhood ailment that occurs when fluid accumulates in the middle ear. This condition can cause hearing difficulties and, in severe cases, may lead to permanent hearing damage. Finally, many illnesses, physical trauma, exposure to loud noises and medications can lead to acquired hearing loss.
What Are the Symptoms?
How can you tell if your child might have a hearing loss? Several signs should prompt you to have your child’s hearing tested ASAP. These include:
- A delay in speech and language
- Failure to respond to loud noises or your voice
- Poor academic performance
- Frequent ear infections
- Disorders associated with hearing loss (e.g. Down syndrome or autism)
- Family history of hearing loss
Newborn Hearing Loss
Congenital hearing loss refers to hearing loss that is present at birth. Objective hearing testing is available to test babies only hours old. Early identification of hearing loss minimizes the long-term effects of hearing impairment. The two most common tests that are performed on infants are: Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) and Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR). OAE testing looks at a child’s hearing by placing a small probe microphone into the ear. Frequency-specific sounds are presented and generate an “echo” back of those sounds. The test measures those echos to determine the integrity of the outer hair cells of the inner ear. The ABR measures the brain’s ability to perceive sound. Small electrodes are placed on a child’s head and ears which measures the brain’s response to sound. Children are given a screening version of one of these tests before being discharged from the hospital.
Should your child fail their newborn hearing screening prior to discharge, our office is equipped to handle most follow-up testing.
Treating Hearing Loss in Children
There are numerous options for treating hearing loss in children, depending upon the type and severity of their condition. For example, your child’s doctor may take a wait-and-see approach to otitis media; medications or ear tubes inserted surgically may treat chronic cases and allow fluid to drain from the ears. Hearing aids, cochlear implants and other hearing devices that enable a child to communicate can help treat permanent hearing loss. Acting sooner lessens the chance of your child experiencing speech or learning difficulties that result from a hearing loss.