Humans are lucky enough to have five senses that help us experience the magic of the world around us. When we lose one of these senses, our whole experience changes. How we interact with the people around us, how we go about our jobs, and how we enjoy our passions and hobbies become turned upside down. The younger we are when this happens, the more significant its impact on our future.
Unfortunately, hearing loss in children is all too common, with one national survey stating that 15% of school-age children have some degree of hearing loss. Adults can lose their hearing in many ways (noise-induced, age, etc.), but what about children? Our experts at Hearing Group look at the common causes of hearing loss in children and why it is so vital that children get the help and support they need.
What Is Childhood Hearing Loss?
Children start to learn from the moment they are born. Much of this learning comes from the sights and sounds around them, particularly when it comes to speech and language. Children diagnosed with hearing loss cannot hear sounds below a specific volume. This is determined using a hearing test, either in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral).
The minimal threshold is typically between 15 and 20 decibels (dB), similar to the sound of rustling leaves or whispered conversation. Even though this level of hearing loss would only be considered as slight hearing loss, it will impact the child’s ability to understand and learn.
The scale by which hearing loss is categorized is:
- 15-20 dB — Light hearing loss.
- 25-40 dB — Mild hearing loss
- 41-60 dB — Moderate hearing loss
- 61-80 dB — Severe hearing loss
- 81+ dB — Profound hearing loss
How to Tell if Your Child Has Hearing Loss
Nowadays, hospitals carry out several different screenings within the first day or two after birth to determine if the child has any hearing loss. However, these infants can sometimes exhibit signs of hearing loss later.
However, it is possible to watch for signs of hearing loss in children by following speech and hearing milestones, like the ones available on the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Unfortunately, many different things can cause hearing loss in children and adults. Around two to three out of every 1,000 children are born with hearing loss (congenital hearing loss) in one or both ears, while many others develop it at a later stage. Many genetic and non-genetic factors can cause congenital hearing loss. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Non-Genetic Causes of Congenital Hearing Loss
- Complications during childbirth — this can include lack of oxygen, herpes, rubella cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and more.
- Brain disorder
- Maternal diabetes
- Premature birth — there is an increased risk of hearing loss when babies are born with a birth weight of less than three pounds due to prematurity.
- Drug usage throughout pregnancy — when the mother uses ototoxic medication throughout the pregnancy, it can potentially damage the auditory nerve or hearing structures of the child.
- Infections throughout pregnancy
- Drug, alcohol, or tobacco consumption throughout the pregnancy.
Genetic Causes of Congenital Hearing Loss
- Genetic syndromes — these syndromes include Treacher Collins syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, Usher syndrome, Down syndrome, etc
- Autosomal dominant hearing loss — this occurs when one parent carries a dominant gene for hearing loss and passes it to their offspring. The parents themselves may or may not suffer from hearing loss.
- Autosomal recessive hearing loss — this is when neither parent has hearing loss but both parents carry a recessive gene that gets passed down to their offspring. This type of congenital hearing loss accounts for 70 percent of all genetic hearing loss.
Causes of Hearing Loss Later in Life
Hearing loss in children can also be acquired, meaning it occurs after childbirth. Much like adults who develop hearing loss, a range of causes include:
- Head injury
- Ototoxic medication
- Perforated eardrum
- Frequent or untreated ear infections
- Meniere’s disease
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Conditions such as meningitis, mumps, and measles.
Temporary Hearing Loss
Some children may experience a different hearing loss known as temporary, fluctuating, or transient hearing loss. Although this type of hearing loss may not last for the entirety of their lives, it can still damage their language, speech and development.
This type of temporary hearing loss is usually caused by middle ear infections (otitis media), which is particularly common in young children due to the position of the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube, responsible for air pressure equalization, is far smaller during development.
If left untreated, this form of temporary hearing loss in children could lead to more permanent sensorineural hearing loss.
Treatments for Children
Before you can treat your child’s hearing loss, it is essential to carry out a hearing test. Pediatric audiologists can test infants as young as six months old, although hearing tests are generally more straightforward once the child is of school age. At this point, they can usually sit still for long enough and respond to any stimuli that are part of the hearing test.
Once the hearing tests have taken place, the hearing specialist can decide on the best course of treatment. Depending on the severity of the hearing loss, the hearing specialist will likely recommend hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech therapy, or assistive listening devices.
Hearing loss is a challenging experience for anyone — let alone children. All hearing loss sufferers deserve professional help and plenty of support to ensure that they can live as normal a life as possible. Here at Hearing Group, we provide friendly and experienced professional help to anyone who needs it. Find out more about hearing loss and come and visit our local hearing specialists.
Tackle hearing loss head-on by booking your hearing appointment today. Find out how our hearing specialists can help look after your hearing.