Children learn using a combination of their senses; they look, touch, taste, smell, and listen to learn about the world around them.
When one of these senses is diminished, it can have a profound affect on how they process information.
Hearing problems in children are fairly common and can stem from a variety of sources.
It is important to know if your child is having difficulty hearing so that you can either treat the problem or in cases where hearing loss is irreversible, formulate a plan to help your child adjust and learn to communicate.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Signs of hearing loss vary by age, but even babies can exhibit symptoms of hearing problems. Seek advice from your doctor or an audiologist if you see any of the following in your child:
Birth-2 months: Child is not awakened by loud noises or doesn’t show the “startle” reflex when a sudden, loud noise is nearby.
2-4 months: Baby does not look toward the source of a sound.
4-12 months: Baby does not turn toward familiar voices and/or does not make babbling sounds.
12-18 months: Baby is not imitating simple sounds or words.
18-24 months: Cannot follow simple instructions such as, “Bring mummy your shoes.” Also, baby should have a small vocabulary of simple, everyday words.
2-4 years: Child is not developing a clear and increasing vocabulary.
Older children: Child doesn’t respond when called, especially when out of your line of vision.
Child may talk loudly, watch television with the volume turned up high, and consistently mispronounce words.
School aged children often have difficulty hearing the teacher, making learning difficult, even for very bright students.
You or your child’s teacher may notice that the child seems to daydream rather than paying attention.
Causes of Hearing Problems in Children
Temporary hearing loss can be caused by:
- Excess mucus within the Eustachian tube, commonly caused by a cold.
- Otitis media (middle ear infection).
- Buildup of wax within the ear canal.
- A foreign object, such as an eraser or small bead stuck in the ear canal.
Permanent hearing loss can be caused by:
- Hereditary conditions can cause the inner ear to develop abnormally.
- Exposure to disease, such as rubella (German measles) while in utero can affect the development of ears in a fetus.
- Some genetic disorders, such as osteogenesis imperfecta and Trisomy 13S
- Certain diseases, including mumps and meningitis.
- Injuries, such as concussion or skull fracture.
- Loud noises, such as firecrackers, rock concerts or personal stereos.
Diagnosing a Hearing Problem
Depending on the age of the child, diagnosing hearing problems can be done using a variety of methods.
For babies, simply making a bit of noise and monitoring the child’s response will usually give you and/or your baby’s paediatrician a good idea as to whether the baby can hear well.
For older children, there are two common types of tests. Auditory brainstream response testing measures activity in the brain in response to sound stimuli.
An audiometer is a machine that emits various sounds, such as beeps and whistles in varying pitches and volumes to pinpoint the degree of hearing loss.
Both methods are very effective in helping to ascertain a child’s ability to hear and to help lead the doctor to an appropriate solution.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of hearing loss, but can include:
- Antibiotics for ear infections.
- Removal of the foreign object or wax build-up.
- Hearing aids to amplify sounds.
- A cochlear implant may be considered in the case of severe or profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are most effective when used early in life, allowing the child to develop normal speech patterns.
- Vibrotactile aids, which translate sound into vibrations felt through the skin.
- Speech therapy and training from a teacher of the deaf to help the child make the most of their limited hearing.