Many hearing problems in children are temporary, and will improve as the child ages or is treated properly for an ear infection. However, children with severe hearing impairments (between 35-70 decibels) may need hearing devices, speech training, and other rehabilitative measures to help their communication abilities.
A properly-fitted hearing aid can help a hearing-impaired child in a number of ways. The child will be able to attend school with normal-hearing children with a minimum of disruptions. Attending school with hearing children improves both cognitive and social skills and teaches your child how to cope with his condition from an early age.
How to Select a Hearing Aid for a Child
It is vital to choose a hearing aid that will correct your child’s specific type and degree of hearing loss, but also one that is comfortable and practical for a child’s use. There are a wide range of child-size hearing aids available, as infants as young as one month old can be fitted with hearing aids and assistive devices.
Your child will require a hearing examination by a specialist to determine which hearing aid is best for his or her condition. Once you and your child have selected a hearing device, your hearing care provider will perform a fitting, program the device, and explain proper use and cleaning techniques. For very young children, parents should know how to adjust and care for the device, as smaller children are often unable to make adjustments themselves.
Specialists often recommend behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids for teenagers and young children, as the BTE style allows easy adjustments for:
- Earmolds. The hearing aid is connected to an earpiece that sits inside the child’s ear. On BTE devices, the earmolds can be detached and replaced easily as a child grows, ensuring a snug but comfortable fit.
- Parents. The hearing aid itself is housed in a casing that sits behind the ear, making it easy for parents and caregivers to make manual adjustments and perform listening checks. Infant models may have child-safe buttons and rocker switches, as well as a childproof battery door to prevent accidents.
- Devices. Many BTE devices can be paired with TVs, cellphones, computers, and other audio devices, making it easy for teenagers to do homework and stay in contact with friends.
- Comfort. BTE models can accommodate a variety of hearing conditions, and both earmolds and tubing can be made of different materials for easy adjustability and comfort during long periods of wear.
Profound Sensorineural Hearing Impairment
Children who have suffered damage to the hearing nerve experience hearing loss called sensorineural deafness. This condition occurs due to an interruption in the transmission of sound from the inner ear to the brain. A child who has been diagnosed with profound sensorineural hearing loss (greater than 70 dB) will need specialized hearing care to learn alternative modes of communication.
Children with profound hearing loss can benefit from a combination of treatments, including hearing aids, speech reading and training, and other oral educational programs. Parents of children with little to no hearing ability can also communicate using American Sign Language.
Children with serious hearing impairments should meet with a hearing care provider early and often. A qualified hearing specialist can determine the likely cause of hearing loss, the type of the loss, and the degree of hearing loss. These three factors will determine which treatments or hearing device will best benefit your child.
Once hearing loss is diagnosed, a specialist should determine whether the loss is progressive or stable. A stable condition is likely to remain the same, and a progressive condition may get worse over time. As children grow, their ear structures and hearing needs change rapidly, so children will need regular hearing testing to determine if the condition has changed. These appointments allow devices to be adjusted to cope with additional loss, allowing your child to continue learning without missing vital lessons.
A hearing aid is just one part of a successful hearing rehabilitation program. A hearing care provider may recommend auditory training, speech therapy, lip reading courses, and instruction in the use of additional assistive devices. Parents should discuss possible therapy options with the child’s hearing care specialist to create a customized program based on the child’s age, condition, and needs.
The Cochlear Implant
Cochlear implants are an option for children who are suffering from severe to complete hearing loss. While a hearing aid amplifies sounds around you, a cochlear implant bypasses the inner ear and sends sound impulses directly to the auditory nerve and into the brain. This allows children to “hear” certain sounds, such as voices, telephones, alarms, and even music.
Implantation of the device involves placing an internal coil beneath the skin under the child’s ear, as well as a planting a stimulating electrode inside the cochlea. The implant works together with an external device that contains a microphone and sound processor, which attaches to the back of the ear magnetically. The device can be activated anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after implantation.
A cochlear implant is often considered a last resort for hearing loss for two reasons. First, the device must be implanted surgically into the child’s inner ear, making it more invasive than other treatments. Secondly, the implantation process commonly involves the destruction or removal of the hearing structures in the ear, making it impossible for the child to regain hearing in the affected ear after surgery. For these reasons, children are typically only considered good candidates for cochlear implants if they are older than one year of age, are completely deaf in one or both ears, and have found no benefit in hearing aids or other rehabilitation.
The earlier a child is treated for a hearing condition, the more likely it is that he or she will be able to learn and develop normally. If you suspect that your child has difficulty hearing, call our toll-free number or use our online contact form to schedule a hearing testing appointment at our office nearest you!