During the first three years of life, your child is developing skills that will provide the foundation for their learning and growth in the future. Even slight or partial hearing loss can potentially affect your child's language and social skills. Recognizing hearing issues early will allow you to get your child the help they need so they can continue to learn and develop at a steady pace.
What causes hearing problems in children?
Hearing loss doesn't just affect those who are aging. Children and adults of any age can suffer from hearing loss, and there are many possible causes, such as:
- Premature birth
- Maternal diabetes during pregnancy
- Maternal infection or drug use during pregnancy
- Birth defects, which occur in between 1 to 3 infants out of every 1000
- Complications at birth
- Infections such as meningitis
- Certain medications
- Repeat ear infections
- Exposure to loud noises
- A family history of childhood hearing loss
- Newborn jaundice that requires a blood transfusion
Signs of hearing loss in children
You'll probably recognize signs of hearing loss in your child before anyone else. When you know what to watch for, you'll be able to spot any concerns if they show up. Look for the following symptoms:
- Your toddler doesn't recognize the names of familiar people or objects
- Your child doesn't enjoy games like patty cake
- Your child's hearing seems inconsistent; they may hear and respond sometimes, but not at other times
- Your toddler can't follow simple commands like "come here"
- Your child doesn't seem to be paying attention
- Your baby doesn't babble
- Your toddler doesn't imitate simple words or use at least two words by 18 months old
- Your child doesn't respond to music or the noise from someone entering a room
- Your toddler watches you as you speak and looks for visual cues of what you're saying
- Your child seems to favor one ear over the other when listening
Screening for hearing loss in children
Your newborn will undergo a hearing screening after birth while they're still in the hospital. These screenings should identify most children who are born with hearing loss. If your child doesn't pass their newborn hearing screen, you'll be scheduled for a follow-up outpatient appointment within two weeks.
A failed hearing test simply means further investigation is needed. It could be something as simple as fluid or debris in the ear, which can cause short-term hearing loss. It could also be something more serious, like permanent hearing loss. Either way, it's important to follow up with a specialist because treatment for hearing loss is most effective when it's started before your child is 6 months old.
It's also possible that hearing loss can occur later in a child's life. In fact, the number of children with hearing loss doubles between birth and the teenage years. Getting regular hearing screenings for your child is important so you can catch any hearing loss as soon as possible. Talk to your child's doctor about how often your child needs hearing screenings.
Treating hearing loss in children
If you suspect your child has hearing loss, you should discuss your concerns with your child's doctor. Your doctor can rule out things like wax build-up, ear infections, or other problems. From there, your doctor will likely refer you to an audiologist, who will conduct an evaluation to determine the severity of your child's hearing loss. An audiologist can also recommend solutions such as hearing aids, assisted listening devices, cochlear implants, and/or speech therapy.