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
HearWell Center is not a pediatric-focused practice, however, if you believe your child is showing signs of hearing loss, you may contact us to see if we are accepting pediatric patients at this time. For children 3 years and older, we can provide hearing assessment to help point you in the best direction for follow up care. As a family-centered practice, we encourage your entire family, as well as your pediatrician, to be involved in all aspects of this process. For children under the age of 3, please contact a pediatric audiology clinic such as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Infants and newborns may not startle at sounds or respond to whispers
- Speech may be delayed or unclear
- Turning up the television volume too high
- Asking “what?” often