Hearing problems in children
Most children with hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing. That means the entire family may have a lot to learn about living with the condition.
You may find out your child has hearing loss when they’re born, or might be diagnosed later in childhood. Either way, the most important thing to do is to get the right treatment as early as possible. If you understand more about the condition, you can get your child the help they need so they can learn, play, and keep up with other kids their age.
Types of hearing problems in children
Sensorineural hearing loss can occur when the sensitive inner ear (cochlea) has damage or a structural problem, although in rare cases it can be caused by problems with the auditory cortex, the part of the brain accountable for hearing.
Cochlear hearing loss, the most common type, can affect a specific part of the cochlea, such as the inner hair cells, the outer hair cells, or both. It usually exists at birth and can be inherited or come from other medical problems, although the cause is sometimes unknown. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
The degree of sensorineural hearing loss can be:
- Mild (a person cannot hear certain sounds)
- Moderate (a person cannot hear many sounds)
- Severe (a person cannot hear most sounds)
- Deep (a person cannot hear any sound)
Sometimes the loss is progressive (gets worse over time) and sometimes unilateral (only in one ear). Because hearing loss can get worse over time, audiological tests should be repeated later. Although medicine and surgery cannot cure this type of hearing loss, hearing aids can help children hear better. Mixed hearing loss occurs when a being has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Dominant hearing loss occurs when the cochlea is working properly, but other parts of the brain are not. This odder type of hearing loss is more difficult to treat.
Auditory Dispensation Disorder (APD) is a condition in which the ears and brain cannot fully coordinate. People with APD generally hear well when there is silence, but cannot hear well when there is noise. In most cases, speech and language therapy can help children with APD.
Causes of temporary hearing problems in children
Some of the causes of impermanent deafness in children include:
- The buildup of wax in the ear canal.
- A foreign object (such as a bead or the tip of a cotton swab) stuck in the ear canal.
- Excess mucus in the eustachian tube, caused by a cold.
- Otitis media (infection of the middle ear).
Causes of permanent hearing problems in children
Hearing problems in children, some of the conditions and events that can cause permanent hearing loss in children include:
- Inherited conditions that cause the inner ear to develop abnormally.
- Some genetic disorders, such as osteogenesis imperfecta and trisomy.
- Exposure of the fetus to diseases: Rubella (German measles) is one of the diseases that can affect the developing ears of the fetus.
- Loud noises, such as fireworks, rock concerts, or personal stereos.
- Injuries, such as a concussion or skull fracture.
- Certain diseases, such as meningitis and mumps.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss in babies
Hospitals routinely perform newborn hearing exams in the first few days after birth. If a newborn shows signs of infant hearing loss, a second screening is usually scheduled a few weeks later. However, sometimes newborns who pass both hearing tests can show signs of hearing loss as they age. If you think your child is having a hard time hearing you, visit your paediatrician right away.
Babies and infants
From birth to four months, your baby should:
- Startled by loud sounds.
- Wakes up or shakes with loud noises.
- Respond to your voice by smiling or cooing.
- Calm down with a familiar voice
From four months to nine months, your baby should:
- Smile when they talk to you
- Observe the toys that make sounds.
- Turn your head toward familiar sounds
- Make babbling noises
- Understand the movements of the hands as the goodbye greeting
At nine to 15 months, your baby should:
- Make various babbling sounds
- Repeat some simple sounds
- Understand basic requests
- Use her voice to get your attention
- Reply to name
At 15 to 24 months, your toddler should:
- Use a lot of simple words
- Point to parts of the body when asking
- Name common objects
- Listen to songs, rhymes, and stories with interest.
- Follow the basic commands
- Signs of hearing loss in tots and school-age children
Older children sometimes develop a hearing loss that was not present before. Here are some things to look for if you think your toddler or preschooler might have hearing loss:
- Has difficulty understanding what people are saying.
- Responds inappropriately to questions (misunderstandings).
- Turn up the volume on the TV incredibly high or sit too close to the TV to listen.
- You have academic problems, especially if they weren’t present before.
- You have speech or language delays or trouble articulating things.
- Observe others imitate their actions, at home or at school.
- Complaints of earaches, or noise.
- Cannot understand on the phone or frequently changes ears while talking on the phone.
Diagnosis of hearing problems in children
Hearing screening can tell if a child might have hearing loss. Hearing screening is easy and is not painful. In fact, babies are often asleep while being screened. It takes a very short time usually only a few minutes.
All babies should have a hearing screening no later than 1 month of age. Most babies have their hearing screened while still in the hospital. If a baby does not pass a hearing screening, it’s very important to get a full hearing test as soon as possible, but no later than 3 months of age.
Children should have a hearing test before entering school or at any time there is a concern about the child’s hearing. Children who fail the hearing test should have a full hearing test as soon as possible.
Treatment for hearing problems in children
No single treatment or intervention is the answer for every person or family. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way. There are many different types of communication options for children with hearing loss and for their families. Some of these options include:
- Learning other ways to communicate, such as sign language.
- Technology to help with communication, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
- Medicine and surgery to correct some types of hearing loss.
Risk factors of hearing problems in children
Risk factors for hearing loss in children contain:
- Otitis media (ear contaminations, the most common cause of hearing loss in young children).
- Craniofacial abnormalities (the head, face, or ears are shaped differently).
- Family history of hearing loss.
- Exposure to infections in the uterus.
- Ototoxic drugs (harmful to the auditory system).
- Syndromes associated with hearing loss, such as Down syndrome or Usher syndrome.
- Being in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than 5 days.
- Certain illnesses, such as syphilis, rubella, and microbial meningitis.
- Head trauma (injury).
Prevent hearing loss in your child
Hearing problems in children, maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, including routine prenatal care. Make sure your child receives all regular childhood immunizations.
Keep your child away from loud noises. Noise-induced (acquired) hearing loss is permanent and can always be prevented. It is caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to any loud noise greater than 85 decibels, which is the volume of sound measured in units called decibels (dB). Common sounds that exceed 85 dB include lawnmowers, music concerts, emergency vehicle sirens, planes taking off, fireworks, and lawnmowers.
Create a peaceful home. Here are some recommendations:
- Set the volume on your TV or video game to the lowest volume, but you can still hear it clearly.
- If you live in a noisy place, keep doors and windows closed to minimize potentially harmful outside noise.
- Use soft interior furniture, more curtains, cushions, and rugs that will absorb more sound.
Encourage children to wear earplugs or earmuffs if they are likely to be exposed to potentially harmful sounds.