Hearing loss is not the only issue involving the ears.
Pediatric Hearing Loss
Hospitals routinely screen newborns for hearing loss. Detection and intervention by the age of six months has been shown to lead to better outcomes. But hearing loss in children can present itself at any time, so parents need to stay alert to the signs.
Treatments for pediatric hearing loss
Most parents will only need to deal with childhood ear infections, but if your child exhibits the signs of hearing loss, you should have your child evaluated by an audiologist. Special hearing tests are designed for infants as young as six months old. Hearing tests can be done on children at any age in the office, even newborns.
Hearing aids work for children with hearing loss just as they do for adults, whether the loss is moderate or profound. Special accessories are available for children to prevent the youngest ones from removing them. Models range from behind-the-ear hearing aids to ones that are in the ear or canal.
For children or infants who don’t receive any benefit from wearing a hearing aid, there are cochlear implants designed especially for them.
In addition to technology, children who have a hearing loss that has affected their speech might need speech-language therapy.
Assistive listening devices
For school-aged children and youth, assistive listening devices can be helpful in the classroom setting. The teacher wears a special microphone that transmits directly to the child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. This helps filter out background noise so your child hears the teacher more clearly.
Causes of hearing loss
Hearing loss in infants and children is classified into basically three types:
- Congenital (from birth)
- Acquired (develops after birth)
- Transient (comes and goes)
Congenital hearing loss
When infants are born with hearing loss, it is classified as congenital whether the hearing loss is genetic or non-genetic. This type of hearing loss accounts for half of all hearing loss in infants and children.
Genetic hearing loss is hereditary. In most cases, the hearing loss is autosomal recessive, meaning that both hearing parents have the recessive gene. Autosomal dominant hearing loss indicates that one parent has the dominant gene, whether or not the parent has hearing loss. Genetic syndromes, such as Down syndrome or Usher syndrome among others, account for the rest of hereditary hearing loss.
Non-genetic causes of congenital hearing loss are numerous and not always apparent in explaining the hearing loss. Reasons for non-genetic hearing loss include:
- Premature birth
- Birth complications
- Maternal diabetes or infection
- Mother’s smoking, alcohol or drug use
Acquired hearing loss
Children can suffer hearing loss for all the same reasons as adults do, including exposure to loud noise. Other reasons include:
- Untreated ear infections
- Perforated eardrum
- Infections like mumps, whooping cough or meningitis
- Head injury
Taking NSAIDs or other ototoxic medications can also lead to hearing loss.
Transient hearing loss
Middle ear infections in children can lead to temporary hearing loss, but if untreated, they can cause permanent damage to the ear and your child’s hearing. Three quarters of children will experience at least one ear infection by the time they are three years old. So although infections are common, they need to be treated promptly.
What to watch for
Whether congenital, acquired or transient, hearing loss can interfere with your child’s speech development, which can impact his or her social development as well. It’s important to monitor your child’s developmental milestones. If anything leads you to suspect that your child isn’t hearing properly, see your pediatrician right away. Early intervention is key.
When it comes to hearing, these are the milestones to watch for:
Birth to four months: Your infant should startle at loud noises, generally respond to your voice as well as calm down when hearing your voice.
Four to nine months: Babies usually smile when spoken to and turn their heads toward sounds. They enjoy toys that make sounds. Babies should be making babbling noises.
Nine to 15 months: Your baby’s babbling should sound more like he or she is repeating your sounds. Babies should respond to their name and understand simple commands.
Fifteen to 24 months: Children at this age can use simple words to communicate their needs. They can follow basic requests. They can point to body parts or objects when you ask them to do so.
In toddlers or older children, pay attention to any complaints about earaches or noises. While children develop at different paces, take note if your child’s speech isn’t as clear as other children of the same age.
It’s also important to be aware that children with autism exhibit signs similar to children with hearing loss. And of course, children with autism can also have hearing loss. In either case, early diagnosis and intervention leads to better outcomes. Never hesitate to seek professional assessment.
Baker ENT offers full services to children with hearing loss, from assessment to treatment. Schedule an appointment for your child so we can diagnosis the hearing problem and start treating it right away.