Hearing loss can start at birth or develop gradually after birth. It is common among children and babies. When you baby or child doesn’t respond to sounds, has problems and difficulties talking, and is slow to start talking, the cause can be hearing loss or impairment.
If your doctor diagnosed your baby or child with hearing loss, don’t feel anxious or overwhelmed. There are many existing treatments and solutions.
Since hearing ability advances the child’s skills in language and speech, it is very important to treat your child’s hearing loss. Keeping it untreated can delay the child’s social, verbal and emotional development.
Research showed that treating hearing loss before the age of six months results in better speech and language than when treating it afterwards.
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss takes place when any part of the ear stops functioning normally. We are talking here about any auditory nerve located in the inner, middle and outer ear. Kids might suffer from hearing loss, or hearing impairment, when there is a problem with one part or more of the ears or with the nerves sending sound signals from the ears to the brain.
In children, it can be congenital- present ay birth, or acquired- developed later in their childhood. Some children might have different levels of hearing loss:
– mild hearing loss: below 25-40dB
– moderate hearing loss: between 41-60 dB
– severe hearing loss: between 61-80 dB
– profound hearing loss: above 81dB
Signs and symptoms of Hearing Loss
The symptoms that might appear differ from child to child. There are certain speech and language milestones that babies and children should reach as they grow up. Any delay in these milestones is a sign of hearing loss or any developmental problem.
Signs in babies:
Do not turn to sounds after they are six months old
Do not get startled at loud sounds
Do not calm down when hearing a familiar voice
Do not recognize the voice of their parents by the age of 3 months
Do not say single words at the age of one
Do not wake up at loud noises
Do not notice toys that make sounds
Turn their heads when they see you and not when they hear their name
Hear certain sounds and not all
Do not listen with interest to songs, stories and rhymes
Signs in children:
Do not have clear speech- delayed speech compared to others their age
Talk very loudly
Have delay in their language skills, pronouncing words incorrectly
Complain from tinnitus – ringing in the ear
Turn the volume of the TV too high or sit very close to it to hear
Do not follow directions
Have difficulty to understand what others are saying or to focus during a conversation
Do not respond when someone addresses them with their name
Have problems academically- learning difficulty
Become easily frustrated when hearing lot of background noises
Complain of earaches, ear pain or noises
Watch the speaker’s face very carefully in order to read their lips
Watch others to imitate their actions, whether at home or school
Screening and diagnosis
Hearing assessment in babies and children depends on their age group.
Hearing screening is what helps us know when a child might be facing hearing loss. Hospitals usually perform it on infants in the first two days after birth. If the newborn shows any sign of hearing loss, they are usually scheduled for another screening couple of weeks later. Despite this, some newborns who pass the second screening might show signs of hearing loss as they grow older.
It is easy and not painful. Babies are usually sleeping while they are being screened. It should be done for them no more than 1 month after they’re born. Children should be tested regularly, at the ages of 4,5,6,8 and 10 years or whenever there is any indication or concern about their hearing, preferably before entering school.
There are many types of hearing tests. Some of them are:
Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA)- Infant hearing testing:
The parent holds the child on their lap while sitting on a chair. The audiologist plays sounds or talks through speakers oriented to the right and left of the child. The child hears the sound and reacts. They stay engaged in the test as much as the audiologist requires to have a good indication of the child’s hearing ability.
Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR): While baby is sleeping, clicking sounds are sent through small earphones into their ears. This test measures the activity of the brain in response to these sounds.
Behavioral Audiometry: This test watches the behavior of the baby in response to specific sounds.
Play Audiometry: The child wears specific earphones. This test is made into a game where the child is asked to react using a toy- touching or moving a toy every time they hear a sound. This test is based on the cooperation of the child.
Causes of Hearing Loss in Children
Following are some risk factors that usually lead to hearing loss in children.
– Autosomal recessive hearing loss: neither parent has hearing loss, but each carries a recessive gene that they pass to the child.
– Autosomal dominant hearing loss: one parent carries a dominant gene and passes it to the child
– Genetic syndromes
Exposure to loud sounds and noises
Maternal infections during pregnancy
Staying in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
Complications after birth
– Low birth weight
– Lack of oxygen
– Jaundice in newborns
– Requirement of blood transfusion
Head trauma, brain disorder or nervous system disorder
Alcohol, smoking or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy
Ear wax accumulation in ear canals
Foreign objects stuck in the ear
Allergy or cold causing fluids to build up in the ear
Hearing Loss Treatments for Children
There is no single treatment that is the only solution for hearing loss. Children with hearing loss should be checked by a whole team of specialists including audiologists, ear, nose and throat doctors (ENT), speech-language therapists, and education specialists. All of these recommend early intervention which help the children communicate with their parents and with their environment. There are many treatment plans that we can consider, most of which are different types of communication options for children and their families. Some of them are:
Medicine or surgery
Antibiotics or antifungal creams
Ear tubes placed surgically in the eardrum of the child to reduce ear infections and drain the fluid out of their middle ear
Surgery to treat hearing loss affected by head trauma or malformed ear canals
Technology that improves communication
Hearing aids: They make sound louder. They are electronic and rechargeable/nonchargeable devices that change and amplify sound. Babies having permanent hearing loss and getting hearing aids before 6 months have more chance of improving language development. The audiologist will have you and your child choose hearing aid that suits their needs.
Cochlear implants: When hearing aids don’t work, cochlear implants might help children with hearing loss. These surgically placed devices trespass parts of the ear which aren’t functioning properly. They stimulate the nerve immediately and transmit electrical stimulation directly to the inner ear. Kids with cochlear implants are able to hear and speak well if they had proper training and therapy.
Hearing habilitation: your child’s audiologist or doctor can work with them to find the most suitable way to communicate and listen.
§ Auditory-verbal therapy (AVT)
§ Speech therapy
§ Speech or lip reading
§ Learning American Sign Language (ASL)
Preventing Hearing Loss
Most children with hearing loss are born to parents who do not have any problem with hearing. What this means is that the parents don’t have all the information needed to cope with this problem or deal with this condition. Many questions arise such as:
– Will they make friends?
– Will they be able to finish their education?
– Will they find a job?
– Can they have a partner and live normally?
Such concerns are very normal. Once the parents have the full picture, they can help their children play, learn, and keep up with other kids and children their age. There are tips that parents can use to help cope with hearing loss in their children:
Making sure your child has all the regular vaccines
Avoiding loud noises in the house, such as loud toys, music or TV
Getting awareness and education- parents should be provided with all the resources needed to understand the situation of their children and know how to deal with it
Supporting their child, empowering them and making it easy for them by showing them all the love, assurance and patience they need
Engaging in support groups which help them understand what is going on and provide advice: sharing different experiences can help them ease their anxieties
Treating hearing loss is very critical in children and babies. The earlier it is detected, the better its effects are on their lives. Getting help early is the only way to improve the development of your child. If you are a parent and suspect any difficulty in your child’s hearing, don’t wait! Contact your child’s doctor immediately. Let him have a hearing test as soon as possible.