Hearing loss affects people of all ages—even newborns and toddlers.
Children who develop a hearing impairment don’t just face the everyday challenges of others with hearing loss; their speech and language development is at risk, increasing the likelihood of social and behavioral problems as they age.
For this reason, early intervention is crucial. Even a temporary hearing loss at a young age can have far-reaching consequences.
Signs of Pediatric Hearing Loss
It can be especially difficult to detect hearing loss in young children, whose ability to vocalize what they are feeling is already problematic. Signs to watch out for include:
- No reaction to loud noises
- Failure to respond to your voice
- Frequent ear infections
- Delays in speech and language ability/limited vocabulary for age
- Poor academic performance
- Disorders often related to hearing loss (e.g., autism, Down syndrome)
Additionally, if there is a family history of hearing loss, there is a greater risk your child will experience it. Congenital factors are one of the leading causes of pediatric hearing loss. It may also develop as a complication from an illness such as measles or encephalitis, or occur following an injury, hazardous noise exposure, or as a side effect of medication.
Helping Your Child Hear: Treatment Options
As stated, the sooner your child’s hearing loss is diagnosed, the better the odds of preventing or reducing the long-term effects of learning and behavioral problems. Treatment will depend on the type and severity of hearing loss, and whether it is conductive (occurring in the outer or middle ear) or sensorineural (confined to the inner ear) in nature.
A conductive hearing loss is often temporary. Your child’s pediatrician may take a wait-and-see approach; often, excess fluid in the middle ear will drain on its own within a few weeks. Medications, including antihistamines, decongestants and antibiotics, are often helpful. If your child’s hearing hasn’t improved after a few months, tympanostomy (ventilation or pressure equalization ear tubes) may be prescribed. These are implanted in the ears via a simple surgical procedure and remain in place anywhere from six months to two years before falling out on their own. Ear tubes help to promote fluid drainage and improve hearing.
A sensorineural hearing loss generally cannot be reversed. As with adults, children who suffer from nerve damage to the inner ear are best helped by hearing aids or, for severe or profound deafness, cochlear implants. Most children with hearing aids or cochlear implants are still able to learn to speak; many supplement this by learning sign language. Hearing aids and cochlear implants seem to work best when fitted earlier (under the age of three) as opposed to later, when it is easier to master a new skill.