Hearing Loss in Children - What You Should Be Aware Of

When talking about hearing loss, most people associate the condition with older people. Besides age-related hearing loss, children, and even newborns can also experience hearing loss from a variety of reasons. Unintentional negligence by parents or guardians could lead to hearing loss in children to go unnoticed until it’s too late.

In this article, we intend to discuss the different aspects related to hearing loss in children that you should be aware of, and take the necessary precautions to protect your child.

Types of hearing loss

Before we delve into hearing loss in children, we should be aware of the different types of hearing loss that exist.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed when the inner ear is damaged. Inside the inner ear lies a small spiral-shaped organ, containing many small cells called hair cells. These cells which help the person hear are damaged, and is responsible for their difficulty in hearing well.

Alternatively, auditory nerves which send electrical signals from the inner ear to the brain may be damaged, manifesting as sensorineural hearing loss.

  • Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves have difficulty passing through the ear canal to reach the inner ear. This can happen due to something as simple as a buildup of wax, or it could allude to something more severe like fluid buildup from an ear infection.

  • Mixed hearing loss

This happens when there is a combination of both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss in the person.

What are the Causes?

There are many reasons why newborns or children may experience hearing impairment. Below are some of the more common causes of hearing loss:

  • Genetic reasons

About half of all hearing loss cases in children are due to genetic reasons.

  • Infections

Some infections pose a hearing issue risk to children. For example, pregnant mothers infected by the Rubella virus increase the risk of hearing loss in their newborns.

  • Certain medications

Ototoxic drugs (i.e. drugs that harm the auditory system) that are administered to the child for another pre-existing condition or when the mother is pregnant with the child is likely to lead to hearing problems. A common example is children who receive chemotherapy sometimes end up with hearing issues because of the treatment.

  • Prolonged exposure to loud sounds

Just like with people of any age, long-term exposure to loud noises will damage one’s hearing and cause sensorineural hearing loss.

  • Physical injury to the head or ears

Direct impacts to the head or ears can damage the organs involved in hearing, especially the eardrum and the cochlear.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s more important to be aware that children can also be susceptible to hearing problems.

What if hearing loss goes untreated?

hearing aid for kids

The effects of hearing loss issues tend to go underappreciated. In the elderly, things like dementia and social isolation are common concerns. In newborns or children however, the consequences could affect them to an extent where it’s difficult to correct or even plague them for their whole lives.

 

In children, being able to hear sounds is very important for their development of language, intellectual, and social-emotional skills. In fact, the younger the child is, the greater the effect of hearing loss will be if left untreated.

 

For a newborn, it is imperative that hearing loss is detected and treated as early as possible before they pass their development milestones. If the condition is not treated before these milestones, it will affect the development of their brain and consequently language and social skills, and in some cases be permanent and cannot be corrected even as the children age.

Though it is more dangerous for hearing loss to go untreated in younger children, it does not mean that it should be tolerable in older children. If hearing problems are suspected, either through feedback from teachers in school or through your own observations, seek professional help immediately.

How is hearing loss detected?

  • Pure Tone Audiometry (PTA) Test

PTA is most commonly done to identify hearing loss issues even in adults. The child will sit inside a soundproof room with headphones on, while the audiologist will play a series of sounds at different frequencies and volume using an audiometer. If any sound is heard through the headphones, the child will press a button to indicate to the audiologist that the sound has been heard.

Through the test, the audiologist will be able to identify the lowest volume in which the child can hear at different frequencies and thus conclude if he or she has hearing loss or not.

However because of the nature of the test, it cannot be used on newborns because they are unable to elicit a response when sound is played to them. In this case, ABR or ASSR are utilized.

  • ABR/ASSR

ABR and ASSR, short for Auditory Brainstem Response and Auditory Steady State Response respectively, are specialized hearing tests used for newborns, or other patients who aren’t suitable for the conventional hearing tests like PTA. When sounds are played to the newborn, the test works by measuring electrical signals in the brain of the newborn and the audiologist can determine if the child has hearing loss, and its severity.

These screening tests are completely painless and typically done a few days after the baby is born to check for any hearing loss early.

Preventive options

Even though hearing problems due to genetic reasons cannot be controlled for, there are many ways in which we can help protect our children from the adverse effects of hearing loss.

  • Make sure your newborn child gets a hearing screening test

This would help to identify any hearing loss issues early and seek treatment options as soon as possible.

  • Being observant of your child

Even if your child has passed their newborn hearing screening test, hearing impairment can still develop throughout infancy and childhood due to underlying genetic reasons, ear infections etc. It is thus important to be observant of your child’s hearing and language skills.

If your child shows signs like difficulty in hearing over background noise, slurring and mumbling their words, or watching television at very high volumes, it is recommended that your child goes for a proper hearing test and seek treatment.

Treatment options

If your child has been diagnosed with hearing loss, hearing aids will have to be fitted in order to allow your child to hear normally, which is essential for the development of their language and social skills. For children with severe hearing impairment to the extent where normal hearing aids are insufficient, cochlear implants might be suggested by your audiologist to help your child hear sufficiently.

hearing aid for kids
  • Cochlear implants are completely silent

Because cochlear implants work by sending electrical signals directly to the cochlear, no sounds are produced and is thus completely silent. In contrast, hearing aid users and people around them sometimes may hear their own voices, especially if the user is experiencing severe hearing loss and the hearing aid is adjusted to produce louder sounds. Users may also experience feedback with hearing aids but this never happens with cochlear implants.

  • Hearing aids may produce more natural sounds

For hearing aids, because sounds travel through your ear canals, sounds are much more natural when compared to that from cochlear implants, where the signals bypasses the ear canal and goes directly to the cochlear.

  • Time needed to get used to

Because sounds produced by a hearing aid is more natural, it takes a shorter period of time to get used to than cochlear implants.

Conclusion

Development of many important basic skills begin as early as the first month of a child’s birth. In order to ensure they develop to their fullest potential, hearing loss must be checked for and treated as soon as possible.

Get A Hearing Test In Singapore At The Hearing Centre

If you suspect your child has hearing loss issues, our certified audiologists at The Hearing Centre are always ready to lend a helping hand.

The Hearing Centre is a hearing care specialist in Singapore with almost 2 decades of presence in the industry. With a team of highly experienced and skilled audiologists, we will walk you through the entire process of getting a hearing aid with the utmost warmth and care, from the diagnosis to fitting and after-sales service including repairs and adjustments.

Apart from high-quality yet fairly priced hearing aids from the most advanced brands in the market, we are proud of our personalized services using state-of-the-art technology to suit every individual’s needs.

Get the best hearing aids from The Hearing Centre.