Hearing Problems in Kids: Does Your Child Have a Hearing Problem?

By Alicia Purdy

Any kind of hearing loss is problematic at any age, but for kids, hearing loss can affect their development in many ways. The most important developmental milestone affected by hearing loss is language development. Studies have repeatedly shown that language must develop within a certain range of years to create proper brain connections. After that, permanent language and developmental delays are evident. If you suspect your child has a hearing problem, early intervention is of the utmost importance.

Not all types of hearing loss will lead to permanent deafness or a lifelong disability. However, your child's hearing will play a major role in her perception of the world and her ability to navigate through life. Even though you can't prevent every illness or injury, take care to watch out for your child's hearing by:

  • limiting exposure to loud noises

  • limiting medicines with hearing loss as a side effect

  • getting their ears checked regularly

  • staying alert for any warning signs of hearing loss

Types of Hearing Loss in Kids

Hearing loss in children is most commonly associated with "otitis media," a middle ear infection. Even in mild cases, hearing can be affected, though it is usually temporary and resolves when the mucus associated with infection clears. In severe cases, hearing loss after an ear infection can be complete and permanent.

Otitis media is extremely common, showing up in 75 percent of kids under 1 year of age. Doctors think it stems from the shorter tubes in the ears of growing children. As fluid (mucus) builds up during a cold and clogs the ears, it inhibits the vibrations of the bones in the ears, causing sound interpretation and hearing problems. Although a single case of otitis media may not lead to long-term hearing damage, many kids experience repeated ear infections, making things much worse.

Other less common reasons that your children may experience hearing loss include problems stemming from these risk factors:

  • low birth weight

  • illness during your pregnancy, like measles

  • a low Apgar score at birth

  • assisted breathing needed after birth, lasting more than 10 days

  • jaundice

  • certain diseases and syndromes

  • genetic factors

  • head injury

  • exposure to loud noises

Signs of Hearing Loss

Just because your child doesn't always respond to the sound of your voice or to their own name, this doesn't necessarily mean there is hearing loss. Some kids are simply deeper thinkers or may be ignoring you, or are off in their own world and aren't registering your voice, which is different than not hearing it.

Here are some things to look for that may indicate hearing loss:

  • misunderstanding of your instructions or directions when you know they're listening

  • irritability or frustration

  • yelling to be heard

  • pulling on the ears

  • wanting the TV/radio/video games to be louder than usual

Getting Hearing Tested

If you suspect your child is starting to experience hearing loss, contact a pediatrician immediately. He will refer you to an audiologist, who specializes in hearing-related issues. Testing kids requires specialized approaches and equipment and not all audiologists are equipped to work with children. Visual reinforcement audiometry is used in children from five months old to just over two years old. This involves using visual aids and sounds to try and get children to locate where a sound is coming from. Older kids will be tested with play audiometry. Some play techniques involve using fun or colorful light-up boards where kids are instructed to place a peg when they hear a certain noise. Speech testing may also be used.

If you feel concerned, err on the side of caution and have your pediatrician check your child's ears to see if there is cause for concern.

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