Hearing is one of the five senses that are crucial for a decent living of a human being. Hearing loss in children is the most unfortunate thing to happen to a child as well as the parents and family of that child. The most tragic part of hearing problem in children is that it cannot be detected without being extra alert since beginning. Hearing loss in children is least visible but widely prevalent among kids. Lets know some basic facts about hearing loss in children- the causes, signs, symptoms of hearing loss in children as well as early childhod hearing screening, proper hearing aid and also surgically implanted hearing devices.
What is Hearing Loss in Children?
There are two primary categories of hearing loss in children- congenital meaning hearing loss present at birth; and acquired meaning hearing loss occurring after birth. These hearing losses may be sensorineural, conductive or mixed.
Most of the children hear and listen from the moment they are born. Only some of them are born deaf or hard-of-hearing. Many children lose their hearing later during childhood. Hearing problems in children can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss can be due to fluids getting in the middle ear from allergies or cold. Sometimes, ear infections, injuries or diseases too affect hearing. Many children can also have permanent hearing loss. This can again be of two types- mild and complete hearing loss. When there is mild hearing loss, children cannot hear as well as normal children without ear problems can do. In complete hearing loss, they cannot hear anything.
When Should Hearing Screening Test be Done for Children?
All the babies should have a hearing screening just after they are born or before they are a month old. If a child does not pass the first screening, he/she should again have a complete hearing test before three months of age. If a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, medical intervention and use of hearing devices and other options should begin by age of 6 months.
How is Screening for Hearing Loss in Children Done?
The screening for hearing loss in infants can be done even while they are asleep through simple, painless and non invasive techniques.
- Two of the hearing tests used to screen infants and new born babies include otoacoustic emission (OAE) test and auditory brain stem response (ABR).
- For babies aged 5 months to 2 and a half years, visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) is used to test their hearing.
- Often, otoacoustic emission (OAE) tests are also done with VRA testing to get some ear-specific results.
- Older children aged 3-5 years who can do more complicated tasks are usually tested through a technique called play audiometry where sounds are paired with a specific response or tasks.
What are the Signs of Hearing Loss in Children?
Hearing loss in new born babies and infants needs to be detected by being careful in recognizing the signs of hearing problems. Hearing loss can also occur later in childhood. Thus, parents, grandparents and other care givers should always be alert so that they can notice anything that seems abnormal while the child tries to hear. Following are some of the signs of hearing loss in children that should not be neglected.
• Child does not react to unexpected loud noises.
• If asleep, not awakened by the loud noises.
• Does not turn head in the direction of care giver’s voice.
• Does not respond consistently to sounds or his/her name.
• Often asks for repeating what has been said or reacts with a “huh”.
• Not able to understand instructions.
• Poor language development. Not using age-appropriate language skills.
• Speech delay.
• Speaks loudly or has unclear speech.
• Increases the volume of TV or other electronic devices emitting sound.
If you notice these signs in your child, you should immediately consult an Audiologist who is the specialist in hearing evaluation.
What are the Causes of Hearing Loss in Children?
While adults lose hearing due to aging and exposure to noise, the causes of hearing loss in children are different that include the following.
• Family history of hearing loss or deafness
• Frequent and/or recurrent ear infections (called otitis media)
• Maternal illness during pregnancy (like German measles or rubella); pregnancy complications (such as Rh factor, maternal diabetes or toxicity)
• Childhood diseases like mumps, measles, chicken pox, meningitis, cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.
• Syndromes known to be associated with hearing loss (like Down syndrome, the Alport syndrome, and Crouzon syndrome)
• Head trauma
• Side effects of medical treatments including some antibiotics and some chemotherapy agents
• Noise induced hearing loss.
If diagnosed in time, many types of hearing loss can be prevented.
What and How to Use Hearing Aid for Children?
Infants as young as four weeks can be fit with hearing aid. Best condition is when the hearing aid is used in both the ears. For infants and very young children, Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are commonly recommended whereas for older children, In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are preferred.
- A digital hearing aid with adjustable frequency response, amount of amplification, good noise management features should be used for proper assistance to children.
- Hearing aids should always be used with ear mold that are specifically molded to the shape of the child’s ear.
- Care should also be taken for replacing ear molds with the growing size of the child’s ears.
- An Audiologist can carefully fit the hearing aid with requisite tools and methods based on the results of hearing tests.
What is the Surgically Implanted Hearing Device?
Cochlear implant is an effective surgically implanted device that gives a sense of sound to children with severe to profound hearing loss.
Sometimes called ‘bionic ears,’ cochlear implants bypass damaged parts of the ear and stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant generates signals that are sent to the brain via auditory nerve. The brain then recognizes these signals as sound. However, most of the benefits of Cochlear Implants can be achieved only when implanted before 2 years of age. Therefore, don’t neglect any signs of hearing loss in children and get immediate medical assistance.