What a sweet thing it is to hear. But what if you wake up and hear no sound, what about those who have never heard at all? Hearing loss in children may appear evidently when one’s child cannot hear the same way other children can.
More specifically, it is the inability of one or both ears to hear and identify a sound. The degrees of hearing impairment can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss affects the individual’s day to day life, up to the point where it can be considered as a physical disability.
What is hearing loss in children?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that hearing loss is experienced by approximately half a billion people worldwide, wherein 34 million are children. Roughly 3.6 million Australians experience hearing loss, preventable cases of which account for 1.3 million people. In the next years, the numbers are seen to only increase.
Being a mother is no easy job; through pregnancy to giving birth, and that’s just the beginning. A baby’s first cry sends a signal, a sort of ‘first contact’ with the mother, and a deep connection and bond is established, one that is biological and psychological.
As the months pass by, the mother usually begins to take note of the baby recognizing the sound of her voice, even observing her when she speaks and moves. Instinctual behaviour lets the baby learn how to talk by mimicking the sounds and noises around them, like the voices of their parents for instance. However when the baby
- is not responsive to sounds,
- your child does not startle or react to loud noises,
- does not use their voice for attention,
- does not say or repeat sounds or words; and
- only seems to notice the mother’s nonverbal cues
This might be a probable cause for alarm. Many new-born babies fail hearing tests conducted in new-born screenings (before being one month old) and as such hearing loss is then accepted as a common birth defect. This may influence a child’s development in language, speech and communication. Furthermore, some familiar signs of hearing loss in older children include but are not limited to:
- the delay in language and speech development
- inattentiveness or lack of concentration
- inaudible speech
- cannot hear sounds below a certain level of volume
- cannot follow basic spoken instructions
- does not respond when their names are being called
What are the causes?
It is imperative that parents take quick decisive action once the signs of hearing loss have been observed or when a physician determines them to be so. Audiologists conduct a non-invasive hearing test in children to diagnose the problem. The good news: the effects of which can be minimized if given prompt and early treatment so that the baby can lead a normal life. The following are possible causes for hearing loss in children.
Also known as congenital hearing loss. It is possible that inherited genes from the mother, father, or either of their family members have caused hearing impairment.
Infections that occur during pregnancy or prenatal care that can cause progressive hearing loss in the child. This is most especially true if the mother has experienced serious illness or if the baby was born prematurely.
Acquired Diseases or Illnesses
Acquired diseases of the ears can result in hearing loss as well, particularly affecting the ears. Impacted cerumen, wherein too much wax in the ear canal, can inhibit or block sound waves from reaching the eardrum, causing some kind of loss in hearing. On the other hand, otitis media, more commonly referred to as glue ear, is the build-up of fluids in the middle ear that causes inflammation.
Young children and infants are more susceptible to contracting this condition because the inside of their ears is not fully developed like an adult’s. To add, diseases like measles, chickenpox, mumps, the flu, meningitis, can also cause loss of hearing.
Constant exposure to moderate to high volumes or sudden contact with an extremely loud sound can cause the child’s eardrum to be damaged to the point of rupturing. Although, noise-induced hearing loss is said to be completely preventable.
Drugs that treat other illnesses like cancer, infections and the like, that are taken by children can often cause ototoxicity or ear-poisoning. This does not only affect hearing but can also disrupt a person’s sense of balance.
What are the types of hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss
Conductive hearing loss arises from complications in the outer or middle ear, preventing sounds to reach the inner ear. Examples of causes are excessive earwax, infection, and growths. Surgical or medical treatment usually can address this condition.
Sensorineural hearing loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is a hearing problem associated with the inner ear. Some causes are premature birth, exposure to loud sounds, and pregnancy-related infections. Though, surgery or medical intervention cannot remedy this condition. Use of hearing aids is usually the less invasive course of treatment for patients suffering sensorineural hearing loss.
Mixed hearing loss
The outer, middle and inner ear affected in mixed hearing loss. It is a combination of conductive damage in the outer or middle ear and sensorineural damage in the inner ear (cochlea) or hearing/auditory nerve which is more serious.
60% of the causes of hearing loss in children are preventable and 40% are non-preventable, 31% are caused by infections and 17% are birth-related cases, as detailed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, though there are cases where it is inevitable. Treatment and support are then a necessity for the child to have a better quality of life.
What can you do?
Untreated hearing loss not only affects speech and language skills, it also impacts the formation of social skills and even intellectual performance in later life. Early detection, swift action and proper treatment can greatly help both parents and child. Most treatment plans are tailor-made for the child and the parent’s capacity. These can be:
- Supportive care from family and friends,
- Stronger communication between parent/s and child,
- use of technological solutions like cochlear implants or hearings aids,
- undergoing correctional medication or surgery; or
- through simply learning an alternative way to communicate such as sign language
If you are concerned about your child’s hearing or communication development, it is important to speak to your family doctor to help guide you to the help you need