When you suspect your child has hearing loss, you can’t help but worry. The day your baby was born, we’re sure that the first thing you did was check on his ten fingers and ten toes. Of course, checking on his fingers and toes also meant that you wanted to make sure that everything else was physiologically perfect, including his hearing. No parent would want anything less for their child.
However, the reality is that hearing loss in children is fairly common. One study estimates that about 15% of children have some form of hearing loss, ranging from mild to severe. Fortunately, most children have slight hearing loss and only in one ear. Many cases are also temporary.
TYPES and CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS
There are three main types of hearing loss:
Conductive – This type is common in children and can happen in one ear or both ears. Conductive hearing loss happens when sound becomes partially or fully blocked and can’t enter the ear. This is often temporary and hearing loss returns to normal when medical or surgical procedures are done.
The common causes of conductive hearing loss are:
- Wax buildup in the ear
- Fluid buildup due to a repeated ear infection
- Abnormal formation of ear bones
- Object stuck in the ear, such as a small toy or a piece of food
Sensorineural – This type of hearing loss is caused by problems with the inner ear or damage to hair cells inside the inner ear. Some infants are born with sensorineural hearing loss due to birth defects that cause changes in the structure of the ear canal or middle ear. This is usually permanent and children with this type of hearing may need special devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, to be able to hear.
This type of hearing loss is commonly caused by:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Family history of permanent hearing loss
- Infection of mother during pregnancy (from herpes or measles)
- Infection of baby after birth (from meningitis or measles)
- Being exposed to toxic chemicals or medicines while in the womb or right after birth
- Problems with the structure of the ear
- Exposure to very loud noise, such as fireworks, jet engine sounds, subways
Mixed – A combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Treatment of this type may also need a combination of methods.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HEARING LOSS
If your baby was born in a hospital, a newborn screening test for hearing was most probably administered on your child before you were sent home. This screening should be done no later than one month old. If a newborn doesn’t pass the first test, another one is administered a few weeks after. Some cases of hearing loss can happen after the newborn screening.
Below are typical symptoms of hearing loss, by age:
Newborn to 4 months:
- Doesn’t startle at loud sounds
- Doesn’t respond to your voice – no reaction when you coo, talk, or sing to him
4 to 9 months
- Doesn’t turn head to a familiar sound
- Isn’t babbling
- Doesn’t smile when spoken to
- Doesn’t notice loud toys or toys with music or sound
9 to 15 months
- Doesn’t respond to his name
- Doesn’t use his voice to get your attention
- Infant still isn’t babbling or repeating simple sounds
15 to 24 months
- Can’t name common objects
- No interest in songs and rhymes
- Can’t follow simple directions
Children can also develop hearing loss later on in life. Below are some signs and symptoms of hearing loss in toddlers and school-age children:
- Doesn’t respond to his name
- Limited, poor, or no speech
- Turns up the TV volume very high or sits very near the TV
- Complains of earaches, ear pain, or noises
- Asks you to repeat questions or words several times a day
- Cannot follow directions
- Watches others to imitate actions, both in school and at home
- Answers questions wrong because he heard misunderstood it
- May have difficulty learning
RISKS OF HEARING LOSS
Untreated hearing loss can cause delays in speech and language development, as well as problems with social skills. These delays and issues can cause your child to have a difficult time in communicating effectively with people around him, including you. Getting your child’s hearing treated immediately is essential in helping him live a happy and productive life.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD HAS HEARING LOSS
It’s important to remember early intervention is key, ideally diagnosing and treating the problem before 3 months old. Hearing should also be checked regularly to make sure that no hearing problems have occurred since the last check-up. We should also be mindful that we need to protect our child’s hearing from environmental factors. There are a number of ways to protect your child’s hearing – for example, making sure you stay as healthy as you can during pregnancy, keeping your noise at a normal level while at home, and letting your baby wear baby earmuffs when bringing him to a noisy and crowded place.
If you’re unsure about your child’s hearing or have noticed that something is not quite right, (trust your instinct) inform your family doctor immediately and explain why you are concerned about your child’s hearing. Your doctor will refer you to a pediatric audiologist who can perform tests to check your child’s hearing or to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Based on the tests done and the results, the audiologist or doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment plan and medical intervention if needed. The sooner these are done, the better the outcome will be for your child.
When your child has hearing loss, it may feel like it’s the end of the world. Don’t worry, it’s not! There are now treatments and procedures readily available that can help your child with his hearing loss. Early intervention and proper treatment can help him live a full and happy life, regardless of his hearing ability.