According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2 to 3 children out of 1,000 in the U.S. are born deaf or hearing impaired. Most states offer newborn hearing screening, and if there is a hearing problem, an other test is performed within a few weeks. Early intervention is key.
Any kind of early hearing loss can be a serious problem. It can undermine the foundation of language development, which experts believe is built during the early months and years of life. If undiagnosed and untreated, pediatric hearing impairment can result in major language development problems.
But it can be very hard to identify hearing loss until signs of speech and developmental delays show up -- many hearing impairments aren't identified until the child is 2. However, a variety of techniques exist to test hearing in children, regardless of the child's age.
If you suspect that your child may have a hearing problem, talk to your pediatrician. Get your child's hearing evaluated as soon as possible. If your child has been diagnosed with a hearing impairment, seek help right away. Experts agree that the earlier children with hearing loss get help, the better their chances of reaching their full learning and developmental potential.
What Are the Causes of Hearing Loss in Children?
Children can experience hearing loss due to a variety of causes, including:
- Otitis media. This middle ear infection occurs often in young children because their Eustachian tubes (the tubes that connect the middle ear to the nose) are not fully developed. Fluid builds up behind the eardrum and can become infected. Even if there is no pain or infection, the fluid can impair hearing if it stays there, at least temporarily. In severe and chronic cases, otitis media can lead to permanent hearing loss.
- Congenital factors. Some children are born with hearing problems -- either as a result of genetic factors or because of prenatal or childbirth problems. More than half of all congenital hearing problems in children are due to genetics. Hearing loss can also result when a pregnant woman develops certain conditions such as diabetes or toxemia. Premature birth also raises a child's risk for hearing problems.
- Acquired hearing loss. A variety of conditions can trigger hearing problems in young children, including illnesses such as meningitis, encephalitis, measles, chickenpox, some forms of genetic hearing loss, and influenza. Head injuries, very loud noises, and certain medications can also lead to acquired hearing loss.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Children
As a parent, you are likely to be the first person to notice hearing problems in your child. Some early indications of a hearing problem include:
- Not reacting to loud noises
- Not responding to your voice
- Making simple sounds that eventually taper off
A child with otitis media may also:
- Pull or rub an ear
- Be constantly irritable for no apparent reason
- Become listless or inattentive
- Not understand directions
- Often ask for the television or radio to be louder
- Have a fever
- Have ear pain
Check with your child's doctor if you have any reason to suspect that your child has hearing problems. For more information on how to detect hearing loss, use the checklist created by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/speechandlanguage.aspx.