Hearing loss can affect anyone at any stage of their life.
This is true of children as well. Hearing impairments affect the auditory system, reducing an individual's ability to hear and interpret sounds and speech.
Depending on the hearing loss, hearing impairments can be temporary or permanent.
Temporary causes typically arise from serious ear infections, but antibiotics have proven effective treatments.
Thankfully, treatment options are available even if your child’s hearing loss is permanent. Amplification devices like hearing aids help restore some hearing.
Hearing aid options for children vary by type, size, cost, and much more. Here, we help give you the information you need to choose the best option for your child’s hearing aids.
What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?
According to data by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), roughly two to three out of every 1,000 young children in the United States are born with some detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.
In children, hearing loss can be unilateral, affecting only one ear, or bilateral, affecting both.
The degree of hearing loss can vary as well, ranging from mild to profound hearing loss. Sadly, even mild hearing loss can disrupt a child’s language development and communication skills.
Congenital Hearing Loss
Hearing loss at birth is congenital hearing loss.
While the exact causes can be difficult to diagnose or determine, common causes for hearing loss at birth include:
- Low birth weight
- Injuries at birth
- Maternal diabetes
- Premature birth
- Alcohol or drug use while pregnant
Hereditary factors remain one of the most prevalent causes of congenital hearing loss.
In children, genetic hearing loss can occur at birth or later in development.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss in Children?
There are several types of hearing loss seen in children.
Let’s look at the most common, including frequent ear infections and conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is often a result of trauma to the structures of the inner ear or obstruction in the ear canal.
Either way, sounds cannot pass through the outer ear to the middle and inner ear. This hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
Common causes of conductive hearing loss can include:
- Items obstructing the ear canal are very common among small children.
- Blockage of earwax (cerumen) in the ear canals.
- Fractures to the bones in the middle ear (ossicles).
One common cause of hearing loss in children is otitis media, infection and inflammation of the middle ear behind the eardrum.
Fluid build-up from inflammation can block sound vibrations from entering the inner ear.
The result is hearing loss.
Typically, this hearing loss is only temporary.
But, when otitis media is left untreated or occurs repeatedly, lasting damage can result in permanent hearing loss. In many cases, ear tubes are an effective intervention to treat chronic infections.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is a more common condition than conductive hearing loss.
However, it is typically the result of aging as the auditory system degenerates over time.
It also occurs due to damage to the inner ear structures, like the hair cells, cochlea, or the auditory nerve. In conjunction with aging, this can happen after years of exposure to loud noises and environments.
Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss can include:
- Ménière's disease, autoimmune inner ear disease, tumors, or cochlear otosclerosis.
- Ototoxic medications can also cause sensorineural hearing loss.
Hearing devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants are the most common treatment options for sensorineural hearing loss.
What Makes Hearing Aids Different for Children?
Pediatric hearing aids aren’t much different from the ones worn by adults, so the principle remains the same.
Hearing aids use a microphone to pick up sounds, a processor that analyzes the sounds, and a receiver to deliver the sound to the wearer. Pretty straightforward.
However, hearing aids for children are different in a few ways:
- Hearing aids for children are often much more durable. They’re made for wear and tear.
- The batteries on children’s hearing aids tend to be tamper resistant — for obvious reasons.
- Many pediatric ear hearing aids have LED indicators to help parents and teachers know if the device is on and working.
- Digital hearing aids for children are often compatible with an FM system. These assistive devices help facilitate communication within the classroom.
What Are the Best Types of Hearing Aids for Children?
The best hearing aids can address a hearer’s degree of hearing loss and adapt to their lifestyle.
They differ in design depending on where they are worn (in or around the ear).
The three best hearing aid style options for children include in-the-ear (ITE), receiver-in-the-ear (RITE), and behind-the-ear (BTE).
In-the-Ear (ITE) Hearing Aids
ITE hearing aids use a plastic case that fits in the outer ear.
They typically come in half-shell or full-shell styles and are available in multiple skin tone options.
They work well with other technical hearing devices and feature elements like telecoils that can help reduce feedback and background noise. Most are also Bluetooth-enabled.
While ITE aids do offer features like noise reduction settings, their smaller size can make them hard to adjust. These work best for older children.
Receiver-in-the-Ear (RITE) Hearing Aids
Instead of sitting inside a plastic hearing aid shell, the receiver (speaker) in a RITE hearing aid sits right in the ear canal.
This makes it a more discreet style of hearing aid.
RITEs are considered an open-fit style hearing aid and typically have much fewer issues with feedback than ITE style hearing aids.
This style of hearing aid is suitable for mild to severe hearing loss.
Although RITE hearing aids can be made custom fit with wearer-specific earmolds, they tend to be most appropriate for older children.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids
The most common style of hearing aid for children remains the tried and true BTE style hearing aid.
The plastic ear molds of BTE-style hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and rest just behind it. These tend to be the biggest style of hearing.
They use a small tube to join the plastic hearing aid electronics to a custom earmold.
The good news is that new earmolds can be made to fit the child’s ears as they grow.
BTEs are available for most degrees of hearing loss, even severe. Their adaptability to the child’s needs and durability make them the best style option for younger children.
A hearing aid fitting by an audiologist should be performed to help determine a child’s needs and level of comfort. This is especially important for first-time hearing aid wearers.
While hearing loss affects children in fewer numbers than adults, it can greatly disrupt their development when it comes to communication. Thankfully, hearing aids are an effective option for treatment.
If you worry that a child may be hard of hearing, the first step is to visit a hearing healthcare professional in the audiology field to diagnose and treat hearing loss in children.
These professionals can administer a hearing test, follow up with a treatment plan, and advise on which hearing aids might be best for your child.