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What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a condition where your child is partly or totally unable to hear sound in one or both ears. If your child has mild or moderate hearing loss in all frequencies, normal conversation may sound like a whisper.

If your child has a severe or profound hearing loss in all frequencies, they may need hearing aids or a cochlear implant to hear conversation. Very young children learn how to speak by hearing language. Hearing loss can prevent your child from learning how to speak well. Your child can take a hearing test to see if they have hearing loss.

There are several kinds of hearing loss in children:

  • Sensorineural [sen-SUH-ree-NOOR-uhl] or nerve deafness. This kind of hearing loss is when your child loses function of their inner ear or the ear loses its connection to the brain.
  • Conductive [kuhn-DUHK-tiv]. This kind of hearing loss is when there is a problem in the outer or middle ear, so that sound is not heard right.
  • Mixed hearing loss includes both types.

All three types of hearing loss can be present at birth or develop later in your child’s life. Hearing loss is more likely in children who were born early, need to use a respirator [RES-puh-rey-ter] to help them breathe, had previous infections, or are taking certain medicines.


The symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Speech delay
  • A hard time following conversation
  • A hard time hearing in noisy areas
  • A ringing or buzzing sound in the ears

When to See a Doctor

You should make an appointment to see your child’s doctor if they complain about or show signs of:

  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Speech delay
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Ear pain
  • Inability to hear normally


Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by:

  • Noise
  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Certain medicine
  • Birth defects
  • Tumors
  • Problems with blood circulation

Conductive hearing loss can be caused by:

  • Problems with the outside of the ear, ear canal, eardrum, or ear bones
  • Earwax
  • Foreign objects in the ear
  • Tumors
  • Ear infections
  • Holes in the eardrum

Diagnosis and Tests

All newborns should have a hearing test before they leave the hospital. If you learn early that your baby has hearing loss, they can get treatment. Early detection will give your baby the best chance to develop normal language, social, and learning skills.

Hearing is tested in many ways. The most common are:

  • Behavioral testing in a sound booth
  • Otoacoustic (OH-toh-uh-KOO-stik) emission (OAE) testing
  • Auditory (AW-di-tawr-ee) brainstem response (ABR) testing

Both children and adults can have their hearing tested in the sound booth. Sometimes even babies can be tested in a sound booth. Older children and adults are tested in a sound booth with headphones or earphones. This hearing test measures how high the decibel level (loudness) needs to be for a person to hear each frequency (pitch or tone).

During OAE and ABR tests, a trained staff person places a small device at the opening of your baby’s ears, one at a time. The device sends sounds into the ear and measures the response.

These tests are painless and can take 15 to 45 minutes. Many babies sleep through hearing screening.

Once your child’s hearing has been tested, the next step is to figure out the cause and type of hearing loss they have. Your doctor may ask your child if they:

  • Have problems hearing when there’s lots of noise
  • Often hear roaring, ringing, or hissing sounds


Sometimes hearing loss can be treated with surgery. Medical devices like hearing aids or restoration therapy can also help reduce the effects of hearing loss.

Hearing aids are small devices that are inserted onto or inside of the ear, and can make sounds louder or change sounds so your child can hear better. There are several different kinds of hearing aids. It’s important to find the one that works best for your child.

Cochlear (KOK-lee-uhr) implants can help children with severe hearing loss. A device is surgically implanted into the inner ear. The device stimulates the inner ear and improves hearing. Only children who cannot use hearing aids should get a cochlear implant.

Children can also receive training in sign language or lip reading to reduce the effect of hearing loss on communication.

Treatment will be determined based on your child’s:

  • Age
  • Overall health and medical history
  • Ability to handle certain medicines, treatments or therapies
  • Degree of hearing loss


Hearing loss can be prevented by:

  • Limiting exposure to loud sounds
  • Early detection and treatment
  • Keeping the ears clean and wax-free

Your child may have hearing loss if they are partly or totally unable to hear sound in one or both of their ears. A hearing test can help you find out if your child has hearing loss. Children with hearing loss may have sensitivity to sound or ringing in their ears. Young children may have delayed speech. Treatment can include hearing aids or cochlear implants.