According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 360 million people in the world have hearing loss. Of that number, 32 million are children under age 15. The good news is that in many cases, hearing loss in children is preventable with early detection and being watchful for symptoms that indicate a possible hearing problem.

Causes of Hearing Loss

Causes of hearing loss in children include:

  • Birth asphyxia
  • Maternal rubella, meningitis, and mumps
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Use of ototoxic drugs during pregnancy
  • Severe jaundice following birth
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise
  • Head injury or injury to the ear

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss typically occurs due to an abnormality involving any part of the ear. Symptoms vary, so it’s crucial to inform your child’s doctor of any behaviors your child displays that cause concern. The following are some symptoms you bring to the attention of your child’s doctor.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Babies

  • Doesn’t turn his or her head when you or someone calls his or name
  • Does not respond to sound after 6 months old
  • Is not startled at loud noises
  • He or she hears some noises but not others

Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Children

  • Delayed or unclear speech
  • Constantly turns up the TV or radio volume too high
  • Does not follow directions
  • Often responds by saying “Huh?” when spoken to

A few of these symptoms can easily be mistaken for inattentiveness, or the child ignoring you when you’re speaking to him or her, but their doctor should still be informed–just to be on the safe side.

Impact of Hearing Loss

When a child is hearing-impaired, his or her ability to communicate with others is also be impaired. His or her academic performance may suffer. He or she may feel isolated and frustrated, especially if their environment lacks access to services and accommodations to meet their special needs. It is important that hearing-impaired children receive the tools to learn to communicate through spoken, written or sign language so they can communicate and participate on an equal basis with their peers.

Prevention and Treatment

Screening your child’s hearing is a preventative measure that could help detect potential hearing problems when they can still be treated. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommends screening your child’s hearing before they enter school. Babies’ hearing should be screened after they are 1 month old and no later than 3 months old.

Other preventative measures include childhood immunizations, immunization against rubella before pregnancy, avoiding ototoxic drugs, syphilis screening (for pregnant women) and avoiding or reducing loud noise exposure. Treatment for hearing loss depends on the severity of the condition. It may include special education to help the child communicate, medical devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, medication (for hearing loss caused by ear infection) or surgery. There are also support groups to help both the child and his or her family adjust the child’s hearing loss.

Treatment begins with early diagnosis. An evaluation by an Atlanta pediatric ENT or general ENT specialist is the first step in helping your child overcome hearing challenges.

By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT