Finding hearing loss early is very important to a child’s development. Speech and language, academic learning, and social interaction all depend on being able to understand language. Dealing with hearing problems at an early age is essential.
Birth to three months
Three to six months
Six to 10 months
10 to 15 months
15 to 18 months
Often hearing loss in young children goes undetected. The first hint may come when a difference is noticed in a child’s health and development. For families to realize that the child needs help, they must understand medical conditions and behaviours associated with hearing loss. Some hearing problems are temporary and can improve with treatment. Others are permanent, requiring hearing aids and specialized supports such as speech and language therapy.
Conductive hearing loss is the first type. Here, structural problems in the outer or middle ear block the transmission of sound. Infections, injury and wax build-up are all common causes of conductive hearing loss. With this type of hearing loss, treatment for infection, surgery or other methods of removing blockage can help.
The second type, sensorineural hearing loss, involves damage to the inner ear or nerve pathways to the brain. Certain sounds are heard less distinctly than others, causing distortion and reduced understanding of speech. Hearing aids can benefit many children with sensorineural hearing loss.
In about half the cases of childhood sensorineural hearing impairment, the cause is genetic. However, deafness that runs in the family may not show up until later in life. Sometimes, children are born deaf. This may happen if their mothers had a viral infection such as German measles (rubella). Birth defects, health problems at birth, certain drugs and medical interventions can also cause this type of hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss is usually gradual and painless. Unfortunately, it is also permanent. Noise from motors, power tools and loud music can all harm hearing.
The ear receives sound waves and sends them through a delicately balanced system to the brain. Part of this system is a chamber in the inner ear, filled with fluid and lined with thousands of tiny hair cells. The hair cells signal the auditory nerve to send electrical pulses to the brain. The brain interprets these pulses as sound. When exposed to loud or prolonged noise, the hair cells are damaged and the transmission of sound is permanently altered.
Finding hearing loss early makes a big difference to a child’s development. Special testing is done for premature infants, those with a family history of deafness and others at high risk for hearing problems. Sensitive instruments can be used to measure hearing in babies under three months of age, often while the baby is sleeping.
With a child over six months of age, game-like testing can be used. Here, sounds are presented through a speaker or earphone. The child responds either by turning the head or by playing a game.
If you suspect your child does not hear properly, talk to your family doctor. Many provinces have a universal newborn hearing screening program.
You may be referred to your local community audiologist. If testing confirms a problem, audiologists can refer you to community support programs. Concerned parents may contact VOICE For Hearing Impaired Children at (416) 487-7719 or www.voicefordeafkids.com. For many conditions, treatment is available. Early intervention and education programs can also help. Finding and treating hearing loss early ensures that children reach their full potential.