Why Treat Childhood Hearing Loss

Growing up is quite the adventure, but with a hearing problem, it’s an adventure that’s hard to navigate, no matter how courageous the spirit. Even though it’s essential to social, emotional, and cognitive development, hearing is often a sense that’s overlooked medically. Early identification and treatment of hearing loss in children can lessen the negative impacts it will have on a child’s development, giving them the opportunity to live up to their full potential socially and academically.

 

Categories of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be measured in degrees, ranging from mild to moderately severe to profound deafness. Hearing loss in children typically falls into three main categories.

  1. The most common, conductive hearing loss, is associated with conditions in the external or middle ear that block the transmission of sound. These conditions can include ear infection, fluid in the ear, impacted earwax, a perforated eardrum, a foreign object in the canal, or birth defects that alter the canal. Many of these are treatable through minor procedures or surgery.
  2. Sensorineural loss, also known as “nerve deafness,” is the second type. This occurs when damage to the inner ear, or to nerve pathways from the inner ear, interfere with the brain’s ability to process sound. Most often, if a child is born with sensorineural hearing loss, it is congenital, meaning it was present at birth. It can also be caused by the use of ototoxic drugs (drugs that damage hearing) during pregnancy, a low birth weight, or treatments for a number of other medical conditions. Although there is no cure for this type of hearing loss, in most cases hearing aids and a family-centered care plan are effective treatments.
  3. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, and it may include damage to the outer or middle ear as well as the inner ear or auditory nerve. Treatment options are based primarily on how much of the hearing loss is correctable through surgery, drugs, or other methods. The remaining hearing loss is usually treatable with hearing aids.

 

Symptoms of Pediatric Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be difficult enough for adults to detect, let alone children, who aren’t always able to articulate the source of their difficulties in life. There are a number of signs to look for if you’re concerned that your child may be suffering from a hearing loss. Take a look at our speech & language development page for more info on signs of normal development.

A little girl smiles brightly while getting fitted with hearing aids for the first time

Hearing Aids for Children

Hearing aids are devices which are used to amplify sound. They are worn by children who suffer from hearing problems, and will consist of several components, including a microphone, loud speaker and circuitry. The microphone is responsible for detecting sound, while the amplifier will increase it and the loud speaker will transmit it within the ear. Most models use batteries to power these components.

Although all hearing aids use the same basic components, they come in different designs, features, and technology used for amplification. While some are analog based, others are digital. Many models will also feature ear molds which channel sound into the ears while increasing the quality. When choosing a hearing aid for their child, parents should select a model based on the severity of their child’s hearing loss, as well as their lifestyle and needs.

 

Hearing Aid Styles

Hearing aids for children primarily come in four different styles, and these include:

  • In the ear hearing aids
  • Behind the ear hearing aids
  • Mini hearing aids
  • In the canal hearing aids

In the ear hearing aids come in the form of a shell that fits into the outer ear. Also known as ITE aids, they are larger than the other variations. Behind the ear hearing aids will come in small plastic containers that are placed behind the ear. This is one of the best styles for children because it is compatible with various ear molds, which will have to be replaced as the child gets older. They are also tough, simple to use and easy to clean.

Mini hearing aids are one of the newest styles, and they also fit behind the ear. However, they are the smallest model available and are very comfortable as they eliminate occlusion while providing better feedback. In-the-canal hearing aids are placed entirely into the ear canal. They are the smallest hearing aids available, and as such, observers may not know the child is wearing them. However, their miniature size may make them prone to being lost or mishandled by children.

 

Analog vs. Digital Hearing Aids

Analog hearing aids amplify sound waves which are continuous, and will do so for all types of sound. Some analog models can be programmed, and they contain a microchip which allows them to be used in various listening environments, such as libraries (which are often quiet) or restaurants, which may be loud. When the child changes environments, they can adjust the settings by pressing a button. Analog hearing aids are based on older technology and are becoming increasingly rare.

Digital hearing aids are based on newer technology, and in addition to having all the features which are seen in analog models, they can also transform sound waves into digitized signals and can accurately duplicate sound. They contain computer chips which will assess any sounds which are detected in the environment, and will perform sound processing which is highly complex. Digital hearing aids will also adapt to the hearing needs of the child. These digital versions have become the standard models that are available today, and parents with any questions about them should contact us at ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center.

If you believe your child is showing signs of hearing loss, please contact us today. We can properly determine your child’s hearing ability, regardless of age, and determine if there is a hearing loss. As a family-centered practice, we encourage your entire family, as well as your pediatrician, to be involved in all aspects of this process.

 

Additional Resources

National Support Programs and Organizations

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf
3417 Volta Place, NW
Washington, DC 20007

(202) 337-5220

www.agbell.org

American Society for Deaf Children
814 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910

(800) 942-ASDC

www.deafchildren.org/

Auditory-Verbal International
2121 Eisenhower, Suite 402
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 739-1049

www.auditory-verbal.org

Beginnings for Parents of Hearing-Impaired Children
1504 Western Boulevard
Raleigh, NC 27606

(800) 541-4327

Cochlear Implant Association, Inc. (formerly Cochlear Implant Club International)
5335 Wisconsin Avenue, NW Suite 440
Washington, DC 20015-2034

(716) 838-4662

Educational Audiology Association
4319 Ehrlich Road
Tampa, FL 33624

(800) 460-7EAA

(813) 968-3597 (fax)

www.edaud.org/

The Mainstream Center Clarke School for the Deaf Center for Oral Education
Round Hill Road
Northampton, MA 01060-2199

(413) 582-1132

(413) 586-6654 (fax)

www.clarkeschool.org

National Association of the Deaf
8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820
Silver Spring, MD 20910

www.nad.org

National Cued Speech Association
23970 Hermitage Road
Cleveland, OH 44122-4008

(800) 459-3529 (V/TTY)

www.cuedspeech.org

The Children’s Hearing Institute
130 East 77th Street 7th Floor
NY, NY 10021

(212) 434-6675 (Voice)

(212) 434-6680 (fax)

Oral Deaf Education

(877)-ORALDEAF

Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH)
7800 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 657-2248 (Voice)

(301) 657-2249 (TDD)

www.shhh.org/

 

Books

  • Allum, Diane. Cochlear Implant Rehabilitation in Children and Adults. Whurr Publishers, London, 1994.
  • Barnes, Judith M. and Franz, Darla (eds.). Pediatric Cochlear Implants: An Overview of Options and Alternatives in Education and Rehabilitation. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Washington, DC, 1994.
  • Clark, G. M., Cowan, R. and Dowell, R. (eds.) Cochlear Implantation for Infants and Children: Advances. Singular Publishing Group, 1997.
  • Estabrooks, Warren (ed.). Cochlear Implants For Kids. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Washington, DC, 1998.
  • McCormick, Barry, Archibold-Mphil, Sue and Sheppard, Sarah. Cochlear Implants for Young Children. Whurr Publishers, London, 1994.
  • Niparko J., Kirk K.. et al. (eds.). Cochlear Implants: Principles & Practices. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999.
  • Nevins, Mary-Ellen and Chute, Pat. Children with Cochlear Implants within Educational Settings. Singular Publishing Group, 1996.
  • Tye-Murray, Nancy. Cochlear Implants and Children: A Handbook for Parents, Teachers and Speech and Hearing Professionals. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Washington, DC, 1992.
  • Waltzman, S. B. and Cohen, N. L. (eds.). Cochlear Implants. Thieme Medical Publishing, 2000.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are earbud headphones harming my child’s (or my) hearing?
Earbuds allow us to listen to music anywhere, anytime, and for long periods of time. This is the perfect storm for hearing loss, as the decibel level (the sound pressure) and the length of listening time affect how much damage is done. Loud music destroys the fine hairs that stimulate auditory nerve fibers, which send signals to the brain to interpret sound. Sound becomes damaging at 85 decibels (the sound level of a bulldozer idling). Listen to your MP3 player at about 70% to avoid damage. Or try the 60/60 rule: Listen to your device at 60% volume for 60 minutes at a time.
How early can a child be diagnosed with hearing loss?
Most children receive their first hearing screening shortly after birth. All states have implemented newborn hearing screenings into hospitals and birthing clinics, and most screenings happen before the parent and child are discharged. If the child does not pass the test twice, they are referred to an otolaryngologist for further testing.
How often should children have their hearing tested?
Your baby should have a basic newborn hearing screening performed before being discharged from the hospital. If your infant has not had this yet, it is important to have your child’s hearing evaluated, preferably within the first three weeks of life. Kids who seem to have normal hearing should continue to have their hearing evaluated at regular checkups. Typically, hearing tests are scheduled at ages 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, and 18.
What should I do if I think my child has a hearing loss?
The sooner the issue is addressed, the better the chances of successful treatment. If you believe your child has a hearing loss, please contact us for an appointment. Our practice provides family-centered treatment that focuses on thorough hearing testing, diagnosis, and follow-up appointments if necessary.
What types of hearing loss are found in children?
While the types of hearing loss in children are the same as in adults (conductive, sensorineural, and mixed), there are differences in what they are more susceptible to. For example, teens are at a greater risk for high-frequency hearing loss because of their lifestyle choices (loud concerts, music volume), while younger children may experience conductive hearing loss caused by otitis media or an ear infection. This is usually because the eustachian tube — the passage between the middle ear and the back of the throat — isn’t able to drain because of its shorter passage and horizontal setting.

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