What is hearing loss in children?
From the moment we wake up in the morning, hearing is often the first sense we engage. From the singing of birds in the trees, rain on the roof or just your morning alarm going off. Can you imagine how it would feel to wake up and hear no sound at all? What about those who have never heard at all?
Hearing loss can be defined as is the inability of one or both ears to hear and identify sound. It can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Hearing loss may affect an individual’s day to day life in varying degrees, from asking someone to repeat what they said up to the point where it can be considered as a physical disability.
How do you tell if a child has hearing loss?
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 predicted 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 weeks and months pass by, mothers begin to take note of their baby’s attempts at communication. Recognizing the sound of their mother’s voice, watching her when she speaks and moves. Instinctual behavior lets the baby learn how to talk by mimicking the sounds and noises around them, like the voices of their parents and siblings for instance. Hearing is essential in this process.
However, when a baby:
- is not responsive to sounds
- does not get startled or react to loud noises
- does not use their voice for attention
- does not say or repeat sounds or words
- only seems to notice the mother’s nonverbal, physical cues
then this might be cause for concern. Some new-born babies fail hearing tests conducted in new-born screenings (before being one month old) and as such hearing loss is considered a common birth defect. This may influence a child’s development in language, speech and communication. 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
- speech is not delivered clearly
- 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. The good news: the effects of hearing loss can be minimized if given prompt treatment meaning that the baby can grow up to lead a normal, happy 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. Impacted cerumen, (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. Furthermore, diseases like measles, chickenpox, mumps, the flu, meningitis, can also cause loss of hearing.
Regular exposure to moderate to high volumes or sudden contact with an extremely loud sound can cause permanent damage to the child’s hearing system. Noise-induced hearing loss is said to be completely preventable.
Drugs used to treat other illnesses like cancer, infections, inflammation that are taken by children can often cause ototoxicity or hearing damage. This may not only affect hearing but can also disrupt a person’s sense of balance.
What are the types of hearing loss?
Conductive hearing loss
When complications in the outer or middle ear prevent sound from reaching the inner ear, then it is referred to as a conductive hearing loss. Examples of causes are excessive earwax, infection, and growths. Surgical or medical treatment usually can address this condition.
Sensorineural hearing loss
Whereas conductive hearing loss stems from the outer or middle ear, sensorineural hearing loss is a problem associated with the inner ear. Some causes in children may be premature birth, exposure to loud sounds, and pregnancy-related infections. Though, surgery or medical intervention cannot remedy this condition, it can be treated through the help of devices like hearing aids and rehabilitation.
Mixed hearing loss
The outer, middle and inner ear are all affected in mixed hearing loss – a combination of conductive and sensorineural.
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 parents
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. Country Hearing Care’s audiologists are given extensive training in paediatric hearing care and they also have a strong relationship with Ear, nose and throat specialists, meaning that at Country Hearing, you are closer to the services your child needs.