Hearing Loss in Children

Growing YearsHearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language, and social skills. The earlier children with hearing loss start getting services, the more likely they are to reach their full potential.  A hearing loss can happen when any part of the ear is not working right, including the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, hearing (acoustic) nerve, and auditory system. Hearing loss varies greatly in severity and cause. The signs and symptoms of hearing loss are also varied.

Babies may not startle at loud noises or turn to the source of a sound after 6 months of age,.

They may  not say single words (such as “dada” or “mama”) by 1 year of age, turn their head when he/she sees you but not when their name is called, and may appear to hear some sounds, but not others. Older children may have delayed or not clear speech. They often say, “Huh?” and do not follow directions. They turn the TV volume up too high.  A delay in any of the milestones could be a sign of hearing loss or other developmental problems.

Hearing screening for babies is easy and takes a very short time. 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. It is very important to follow up with a full hearing evaluation as soon as possible if the screening has negative results. Older children should have their hearing tested before entering school or  when there is a concern.

Hearing loss can happen any time during life, from before birth to adulthood. 50% to 60% of hearing loss in babies is due to genetic causes.  About 30% of babies with genetic hearing loss have a “syndrome” such as Down syndrome or Usher syndrome.  25% or more of hearing loss in babies is due to maternal infections, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), during pregnancy, complications after birth, and head trauma, spent 5 days or more in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or had complications while in the NICU.  They may have had  a blood transfusion to treat jaundice, or had meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord.  There may be a misshaped shaped head, face or ears, bad injury to the head, or a neurological disorder. About one in every four children with hearing loss also is born weighing less than 5½ pounds. 

If you think your child might have a hearing loss, ask the doctor for a hearing screening as soon as possible.  If your child does not pass a hearing screening, ask for a full hearing test. Don’t wait!  The earlier there is intervention, the less chance of developmental delays.

Source: Linda G. Swann, M.S. Early Childhood / SPED