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 the medical community tends to overlook. 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 social and academic potential.

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Kids running at school

 

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.

  1. The most common, conductive 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 or middle ear structure. Many of these conditions are treatable through minor procedures or surgery.
  2. 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 to the auditory cortex in the brain, interfere with the brain’s ability to process sound. If a child is born with sensorineural hearing loss, it is congenital, meaning it was present at birth. Sensorineural hearing loss can also be caused by the use of ototoxic drugs (drugs that damage hearing) during pregnancy, 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.
  3. 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.


In Newborns/Infants

Your child’s communication skills begin developing as soon as they are born. A delay in the advancement of these developmental milestones is a red flag and should be investigated further. Alert your child’s primary caregiver if you notice any of the following signs of possible hearing loss:

Difficulty Hearing/Understanding:

  • 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

Infant hearing loss

Toddlers

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 apparent. Look for these potential signs of hearing loss:

Difficulty Hearing/Understanding:

  • 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

Toddler hearing loss

Young Adults

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 cause irreparable damage to your child’s hearing if they’re not consistently 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

 

For a more complete list of expected hearing and communication developmental milestones, visit The National Institute for Health’s website.

Young adult hearing loss

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