Have you noticed your child watching the television with the volume blaring, or have your friends and family been saying to you that they feel your child is not speaking well? These are signs that can be associated with hearing loss in children. Luckily, this is often fixable.
If left untreated, hearing loss can have a substantial effect on an individual’s quality of life, particularly for children who are at a critical age for developing speech and language and who are also at the age where they are learning about socialization and education. For many children with hearing loss, they would be none the wiser on the fact that they are not hearing effectively. A hearing loss, even at a mild level, can delay a child’s ability to develop communication skills, which impacts on their ability to develop friendships, their levels of attention and their ability to learn. Lucky in Australia, the newborn hearing screen is able to detect permanent hearing losses in children within days of birth, leading to early intervention so that a child can go on to develop normal speech and language. However, some hearing loss in children is not evident until a later age. It is easy to get a child’s hearing checked. Most hearing loss in children is able to be treated and prevented, although early identification is important.
Signs of hearing loss in children
You may be feeling that things are not quite right with your child. For some children with a hearing loss, there may be physical signs, such as discharge from the ear or the doctor may notice redness or an abnormal eardrum. At other times however, there may be no physical signs for hearing loss in children. You may notice your child is not be responding to their name or may only respond when your voice is at a raised level. The child’s teacher may raise concerns about their ability to listen in class and concerns with attention are often mentioned. Hearing loss in children can also sometimes make a child talk too loudly, yet they may not react when they hear a loud sound themselves. They also may be sitting too close to the television and want to turn the volume up to a loud level. You may notice that they respond to you better in certain environments and they may have more trouble hearing with background noise, or that they hear you better when you are positioned in a certain place. For some children with hearing loss, one ear only may be impacted, so it may not always be an obvious or consistent hearing difficulty. A common sign for hearing loss in children is lack of speech development. You may notice your one-and-a-half-year-old is not saying “mum” or “dad” or that your 3-year-old is only saying single words and that they may be unclear. Although there can be many reasons behind lack of speech development, it would be important not to rule out hearing loss as the cause.
Causes and treatments of hearing loss in children
Diagnosed hearing loss in children can either be present at birth or developed after birth. A child born with a hearing loss is less common and is likely picked up a few days after birth by the neonatal hearing screening which uses a couple of tests to determine whether a hearing loss in present. More commonly, hearing loss in children may develop in a child’s younger years, often at a time when they are developing speech and language. There are different types of hearing loss that children may have. One diagnosed hearing loss in children, which is much more common in younger children, is a conductive hearing loss. These losses are often caused by ear infections, fluid in the middle ear area or sometimes significant wax in the ears. With this type of hearing loss in children, it is often described as the child hearing like they have their fingers stuck in their ears, with everything sounding muffled and unclear. This type of hearing loss although not always, is usually a temporary loss, with possible medical intervention including a small surgical procedure, that may be needed to return the hearing to normal. This type of hearing loss is often treated by an ear, nose and throat specialist following an age appropriate hearing test. A diagnosed permanent hearing loss in children, much less common, is called a sensorineural hearing loss and there may be several reasons behind the loss, including a genetic link, a viral cause or sometimes an unknown reason. This type of hearing loss in children is unable to be improved with medical intervention. However, hearing aids and other implantable hearing options may be suitable and have great success with helping children with a hearing loss to be able to hear well. A third, yet more rare hearing loss in children, could be a mixed hearing loss, which involves a little bit of both a sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Future effects of hearing loss in children
If left untreated, hearing loss can be detrimental to a child’s future. As well as affecting their ability to develop speech and language, it can also impact on their social abilities, affecting their capability to build interpersonal relationships. Hearing loss in children can affect their academic achievements, as children with a hearing loss will often have difficulty hearing the teacher in class. If this is left untreated, it can impact on the child’s future educational ability and achievements and have impact on their choices of career and adult achievements. Hearing loss in children (particularly if hearing is below normal for a longer period) is also shown to be linked to difficulties with processing information. Even when hearing is back to within normal limits, it has been shown that children with hearing loss are more commonly shown to have auditory processing deficits. This is where they might still struggle to hear in certain environments, particularly difficult listening environments such as when background noise is present, environments where other people may still hear well in.
How to check for hearing loss in children.
If you or someone else suspects a hearing loss in your child, it is important to get it checked by a medical doctor. The doctor will often do an examination of the child’s ears and may wish to get a hearing test done which shows whether there is a hearing loss and helps determine what type of hearing loss there is. Hearing tests can be performed on all ages and the audiologists (professionals who test the hearing) will be able to choose the best type of testing that suits your child. Your doctor may also recommend that your child see an ear, nose and throat specialist who can help diagnose and treat hearing loss in children.
In summary, hearing loss can have a substantial effect on an individual’s quality of life. As a parent, it is important to be aware of what behaviors to look for in your children, that can sometimes be related to a hearing loss. It is important that the parent talks to their doctor or audiologist about any concerns that they may have regarding hearing loss in their child. This will help ensure that correct identification and treatment can be administered.