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Hearing Loss in Children

Everyday in the United States, approximately 1 in 1,000 newborns (or 33 babies every day) is born profoundly deaf with another 2-3 out of 1,000 babies born with partial hearing loss.

This type of hearing loss (present at birth) is congenital, and is caused by:

  • Infections during pregnancy (German measles, toxoplasmosis and cytomegolavirus)
  • Ototoxic medication used during pregnancy
  • Birth complications
  • Disorder of the brain or nervous system
  • Genetic syndromes (Ushers, Down's and Waardenburg's syndromes)
  • Family history of hearing loss

Acquired hearing loss occurs following birth and is caused by:

  • Middle-ear infections
  • Various other infections (meningitis, mumps, measles or whooping cough)
  • Perforation of the eardrum
  • Excessive loud noise
  • Disease (such as otosclerosis or Ménière's disease)
  • A serious injury to the head
  • Ototoxic medication

Both of these types of hearing losses may be sensorineural, conductive or mixed.

Early Warning Signs
Early detection of hearing loss in children is crucial since they learn to speak based on what they hear (through imitating both words and sounds). It often becomes very difficult for hearing impaired children to adapt to standard, everyday learning processes.

Testing and intervention should begin right away if parents, healthcare providers or educators notice the following:

Infants (birth to one year):

  • No reaction to loud sounds
  • Does not turn toward a sound source, such as a parent’s voice
  • Does not become quiet in response to sounds such as voices or music
  • Does not babble freely

Toddlers (1-3 years old):

  • No response to familiar words (such as “momma” or “no”)
  • Fails to put words together (such as “more” and “juice”)
  • Speech is too loud or quiet
  • Speech does not include certain vowels and consonants
  • Is unable to follow simple directions
  • Has difficulty understanding speech at a distance or in a noisy environment
  • Often turns up the sound on the television or radio
  • Does not respond to a statement that excites other children (such as, "Who wants to go outside?")
  • Has more difficulty following instructions when not watching a speaker's face

Audiologists can test children of any age, including newborns. When a child is old enough to localize sounds, they can undergo behavioral testing in a sound booth using visual reinforcement. Children three years old and older can generally be tested much like adults.

Frequently, hearing loss in young children is temporary, and caused by earwax or middle-ear infections. Many children with temporary hearing loss can have their hearing restored through medical treatment or minor surgery.

Adapting to Their World
No matter what age, parents of hearing-impaired children need to be more than just supportive – they need to have limitless empathy and, just as important, patience. They must be aware about the difficulties their children must confront on a daily basis and find ways to minimize them.

Effective approaches in doing this include:

  • Utilizing an alternate approach of communication such as sign language or finger spelling
  • Provide them assistive hearing aids, such as signaling devices or telephone amplifiers
  • Notify teachers and school officials about the child's hearing problem and look for ways to make their learning process easier

Suggested Further Reading
A Guide to Your Child’s Hearing
Dr. Judith Gravel, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Summary: Article will help parents understand how their children hear, how to help your child prevent hearing loss, and what to do if you suspect a hearing loss.

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