Growing up is quite the adventure, but with a hearing problem, it’s an adventure that’s hard to navigate no matter how courageous the spirit.
Even though it’s essential to social, emotional, and cognitive development, hearing is often a sense that’s overlooked medically. Early identification and treatment of hearing loss in children can lessen the negative impacts it will have on a child’s development, giving them the opportunity to live up to their full potential socially and academically.
Categories of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be measured in degrees, ranging from mild to moderately severe to profound deafness. Hearing loss in children typically falls into three main categories.
- The most common, conductive hearing loss, is associated with conditions in the external or middle ear that block the transmission of sound. These conditions can include ear infection, fluid in the ear, impacted earwax, a perforated eardrum, a foreign object in the canal, or birth defects that alter the canal. Many of these are treatable through minor procedures or surgery.
- Sensorineural loss, also known as “nerve deafness,” is the second type. This occurs when damage to the inner ear, or to nerve pathways from the inner ear, interfere with the brain’s ability to process sound. Most often, if a child is born with sensorineural hearing loss, it is congenital, meaning it was present at birth. It can also be caused by the use of ototoxic drugs (drugs that damage hearing) during pregnancy, a low birth weight, or treatments for a number of other medical conditions. Although there is no cure for this type of hearing loss, in most cases hearing aids and a family-centered care plan are effective treatments.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and it may include damage to the outer or middle ear as well as the inner ear or auditory nerve. Treatment options are based primarily on how much of the hearing loss is correctable through surgery, drugs, or other methods. The remaining hearing loss is usually treatable with hearing aids.
Symptoms of Pediatric Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be difficult enough for adults to detect, let alone children, who aren’t always able to articulate the source of their difficulties in life. There are a number of signs to look for if you’re concerned that your child may be suffering from a hearing loss.
Your child’s communication skills begin developing as soon as they are born. A delay in the advancement of these skills is a red flag that something is not right developmentally. Look for these signs of hearing loss:
- Not startling at loud noises
- Not recognizing your voice
- Not moving eyes in direction of sound
Difficulty with Speech Development:
- Lack of babbling
- Lack of crying for different needs
- Doesn’t vocalize excitement or displeasure
- Around 7 months to a year, hasn’t spoken one or two words
As with newborns and infants, a child’s difficulty with communication skills may be a sign of hearing impairment. As your child begins day care and/or preschool, any trouble they may have listening or communicating will become more prominent. Look for these signs of hearing loss:
- Unable to point to different body parts when asked
- Doesn’t enjoy being read to
- Doesn’t understand action words like “run” or “sit”
- Sits close to the television
Difficulty with Speech Development:
- Unable to form simple sentences
- Doesn’t ask “why?” or “what?” questions
- Can’t answer “why?” or “what?” questions
- Doesn’t use plurals or verbs
Teens today have quite a bit on their plates, and they typically aren’t educated about the possibility of loud noises permanently damaging their hearing. It is essential to protect their healthy ears, as hearing plays a critical role in their academic success, social standing, and future economic achievements. This age group is at a greater risk for high-frequency hearing loss because of lifestyle choices. Seeing their favorite artists in concert, playing music too loudly through headphones, attending loud sporting events, or hunting can all damage your child’s hearing irreparably if they’re not using proper hearing protection.
Look for these signs of hearing loss:
- Turning up the television to an excessive volume
- Saying “what?” frequently
- Only responding when eye contact is made
- Complaining of ringing in the ears or a dip in hearing ability
- Withdrawing socially
If you believe your child is showing signs of hearing loss, please contact us today. As a certified location for infant hearing evaluations, we can properly determine your child’s hearing ability, regardless of age, and determine if there is a hearing loss. As a family-centered practice, we encourage your entire family, as well as your pediatrician, to be involved in all aspects of this process.
How is a child’s hearing tested?
There are several ways to test a child’s hearing. The method chosen is based upon age and ability.
Birth to 6 months
Screened at hospital before discharge or within 30 days using otoacoustic emissions (OAE) auditory brain stem response (ABR) or auditory steady state response (ASSR). These are referred to as electrophysiological tests. They are objective and do not require a response from the baby.
6 months – 2 years
Depending on the child’s age, either behavioral observation audiometry (BOA) or visual response audiometry (IVRA) will be used to assess hearing. Both of these test are conducted in the sound booth with the child seated on the parent’s lap. The chair is placed between 2 speakers from which a variety of sounds are emitted. In younger children we are looking for such things as a head turn or eye shift when sounds and speech are presented (BOA). In older children, we teach them to localize the source of the sound by reinforcing their responses using lights or toys (VRA). This engages the child and will often encourage them to respond to soft sounds.
At this age we begin play audiometry. The child wears headphones, so each ear is tested individually. The child is conditioned to drop a block in a box or place a ring on a stick every time a sound is heard. Ear specific information at soft levels can be obtained.
4 years and older
At this age, many children can be tested as an adult. In this case, they will raise their hand whenever they hear a sound, no matter how soft.