Hearing loss has many different causes and can range in severity from mild to profound. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, hearing loss can be broadly categorized as either acquired (hearing loss that develops at any point after birth) or congenital (present at birth). Hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are more common in children than in adults.
Here, experts outline some of the most common causes of hearing loss in children.
Ayasakanta Rout, PhD, a Professor of Audiology at James Madison University, Virginia tells WebMD Connect to Care that genetics are responsible for around 50% to 60% of permanent childhood hearing loss in the United States. Some babies born with genetic hearing loss have a syndrome or condition associated with their hearing loss. But in the vast majority of cases, genetic hearing loss in children is non-syndromic, meaning it’s not accompanied by other symptoms, according to Rout.
Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)
Middle ear infections are much more common in children than in adults. They occur when fluid builds up in the middle ear — the space behind the eardrum — and becomes infected. According to Kaitlin Anderson, AuD, a clinical audiologist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Illinois, this fluid buildup prevents the eardrum from moving like it normally would, which can cause temporary hearing loss. Hearing loss associated with middle ear infections generally goes away once the infection clears up, but according to the World Health Organization, it is possible for chronic ear infections to damage parts of the middle ear, causing permanent hearing loss.
Loud Noise Exposure
“Exposure to very loud sounds, especially those over 110+ decibels, can cause hearing loss in as little as seconds to minutes,” Anderson says. Repeated exposure to loud sounds can also cause hearing loss more slowly over time. According to Anderson, whether instantly or over time, loud sounds can damage hair cells — cells in the inner ear that detect sound — and even cause them to die, resulting in permanent hearing loss.
Signs of Hearing Loss in Children
It can be difficult to identify hearing loss in children, especially in children that are too young to speak. According to the CDC, signs of hearing loss in babies include not reacting to loud noises, seeming to hear some sounds but not others, and not turning toward the direction a sound is coming from by the time they are six months old. In older children, the first sign of hearing loss may show in difficulty following spoken instructions at home or in school, according to Rout. Children with hearing loss may also have altered or unclear speech, and show delays in language development.
Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.
In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.