What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?
While many people assume hearing loss only happens to adults, it can affect children too. It can occur when any part of the ear does not function properly, whether that is the outer ear, inner ear, middle ear, hearing nerve or auditory system.
About half of the cases of hearing loss in babies have a genetic source. Some infants have a parent with a hearing loss, although that is not always the case. For some children, the hearing problem presents itself as a symptom of a disorder, such as down syndrome or Alport syndrome. If your baby is born with hearing loss, an audiologist might refer to it as congenital hearing loss.
Non-genetic congenital hearing loss
Genetics is not the only reason why some babies are born with hearing problems. For example, the mother might develop a certain condition during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia or diabetes, that causes congenital hearing loss.
Other examples of birth complications are toxoplasmosis, herpes or not getting enough oxygen. Premature birth is also a risk factor for hearing loss, as is smoking during pregnancy. Mothers with a drug or alcohol addiction also put their unborn child at risk of having a hearing issue at birth.
Causes of hearing loss as a young child
Hearing loss can also occur after birth, early in the child’s life. If they spent five days or longer in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit, they are at risk.
Hearing loss can also happen if a young child gets sick with measles, chickenpox, the flu, meningitis, whooping cough or some other conditions. Needing a blood transfusion after birth is another cause of hearing loss. Or, has your child had multiple ear infections? If so, an audiologist would determine if the ear infections, called otitis media, led to the diminished hearing.
Other times, hearing loss in children happens after they sustain a head injury. This type of trauma can potentially damage the ear. Certain medications can also affect the hearing process. Sudden exposure to loud noise is another risk factor. For example, your child might hear fireworks at a young age, and this incident can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
Temporarily losing their hearing
For some kids, their hearing loss comes and goes. While it is not lifelong, it can still impact their development of language and speech. This issue can result from otitis media when excess fluids prevent the bones in the middle ear from functioning properly. If left untreated, these ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss because of damage to the bones, auditory system or eardrum.
Screening for hearing loss
Before leaving the hospital, infants undergo a mandatory hearing test in the United States. They are pain-free and can happen while the newborn sleeps.
Some babies do not pass the screening because of remaining fluid in their ear canal from birth. If your infant fails the screening, make an appointment with an audiologist to follow-up within a few weeks. Many babies pass the second screening. For those who do not pass it, the audiologist will look further into the problem.
Hearing loss treatments
The best treatment for your child will depend on the type of hearing loss and its severity. Hearing loss in kids ranges from mild to profound. Options include cochlear implants and hearing aids. Pediatric hearing aids provide a life-changing way for a child to hear clearly again. There are also special covers and accessories available to help prevent kids from taking the devices off or losing them.
FM systems and other assisted hearing methods can help your child work effectively in the school classroom. They also might receive speech therapy to improve language use and understanding. Meeting with an audiologist will help you determine if it is a temporary or permanent condition. If it is temporary, the audiologist will handle the issue or refer you to another specialist, such as an ear, nose and throat doctor, if appropriate.
Audiologists can provide hearing exams for babies as young as six months. Following the exam, they will discuss the results with you and determine the right treatment plan.
Getting help for hearing loss in children
If you worry that your child has hearing loss, meeting with an audiologist is a useful first step toward determining if there is an issue and, if so, what it is. Based on what the audiologist finds during the initial screening, you can take steps as a family to help your child hear better to enjoy life fully.
Take this first step today by reaching out to the Hearing & Balance Centers of West Tennessee. Easily reach at these locations, Jackson at 731-660-5511 or Memphis at 901-842-4327.
If you would like to schedule an appointment or have questions about our services, you can click here to fill out our contact form.