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Hearing Problems in Children: Part 1

Children rely on hearing and speech from a very early age. Their ability to hear helps them learn how to use and understand language and is vital to developing social skills. But when a child has a hearing condition, he or she will miss out on sound cues and spoken language, causing a number of cognitive, academic, and developmental problems.

Children with hearing problems may have a harder time communicating or understanding spoken words. However, with proper treatment, most speech and language issues can be overcome, allowing your child to interact with friends and teachers as well as any hearing child.

Problems At Birth

Over five thousand children are born without hearing each year in the U.S., with another 15 percent of newborns suffering from at least partial hearing loss. Hearing loss present at birth (called congenital hearing loss) can be caused by many factors. First, there may be a genetic problem that caused the structures of the ear to develop abnormally. Second, there could have been a problem during fetal development that resulted in hearing loss, such as an infection or medication use in the mother during pregnancy.

Finally, there may have been a problem during the child’s birth that resulted in loss of hearing. Severely low birth weight, an infection present at birth (including herpes, rubella, or toxoplasmosis), use of lifesaving drugs on premature infants, severe lack of oxygen to the baby, or any condition that required neonatal intensive care could potentially result in hearing impairment.

Parents should watch for signs of hearing trouble within the first year of a baby’s life. A child could be suffering from hearing loss if he or she is unable to do the following:

  • Wake up, startle, or respond when loud sounds occur
  • Recognize voices of parents and family members
  • Turn his or her head toward the source of familiar noises
  • Smile or laugh when spoken to
  • Notice toys that make noises (such as rattles)
  • Have different-sounding cries for each of his or her needs (hunger, changing, etc.)
  • Make babbling sounds or repeat sounds he or she hears
  • Respond to word and gesture combinations (such as waving hello or goodbye)
  • Respond to his or her name
  • Recognize and respond to changes in volume and tone of voices
  • Say simple words and phrases (such as mama or dada)

Sensorineural Impairment, Congenital Factors, Infections

Children who have hearing loss from birth typically suffer from sensorineural hearing loss, a problem with the transmission of sound from the hair cells in the inner ear to the brain. Although this type of hearing loss is usually permanent, most children will retain some hearing ability, which can be amplified with the use of hearing aids.

There are many factors that can increase the chances of a child suffering from congenital hearing loss. Parents who have a strong family history of hearing loss may pass this trait on to their children and some genetic conditions (such Down syndrome) can affect hearing ability.

Children can also suffer from hearing loss after birth, but in the early months or years of life. Only severe infections (such as meningitis) can cause permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Children may commonly suffer hearing loss due to middle-ear infections; however, the loss is usually temporary.

Hereditary Impairment

Most childhood hearing conditions are due to genetic inheritances. Hundreds of thousands of genes interact with each other during fetal development, and any combination could potentially affect the development or function of the child’s hearing. If one parent suffers from hereditary hearing loss (a dominant expression of the gene), he or she has the potential to pass it on to the child. However, if the parents merely carry the gene but have no hearing loss symptoms, they have a 25 percent chance of passing the trait to their children.

Most causes of hereditary hearing loss are recessive, meaning the genes would have to be present in both parents for the child to suffer from hearing loss. Even if both parents carry a recessive gene, it does not mean the child will have trouble hearing from birth. Many causes of late-onset hearing loss are genetic, meaning your child could simply be more likely to suffer hearing problems later in life.

Parents who are concerned about their future child’s hearing ability can undergo molecular genetic testing before attempting to become pregnant. This testing can be analyzed by an otologist to discover any mutations in the parents that may cause hearing loss in children.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss in Children

Early detection of a hearing problem is key to lasting and effective treatment. Many hospitals perform universal hearing screenings on newborns, with those who do not pass marked for follow-up with an audiologist. An audiologist performs many of the same hearing tests on children as adults, but there are some tests that will vary based on the age of the child.

A comprehensive hearing assessment should involve a full hearing and health history, observation of the child, testing middle ear muscle reflexes, and acoustic admittance measurements. After the exam, the audiologist will explain the degree and type of your child’s hearing loss, as well as the possible treatments to correct it.

The most successful treatment for sensorineural hearing loss is a hearing aid in the affected ear, as well as special training to help your child adapt to difficulties in certain environments and interactions. Infants as young as three months old can be fitted with hearing aids, and the enhanced sound can be invaluable in helping him or her meet normal learning and development milestones.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from hearing loss, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. Call us today at 866-517-4415 to schedule a hearing testing appointment at the Florida office nearest you!