Hearing loss can be detrimental at any age.
While hearing loss is most pervasive among older adults, it affects more children than many might imagine.
Hearing loss puts a child at a great disadvantage when it comes to both social and educational development.
The ability to hear and distinguish sounds greatly affects language and speech development.
Unfortunately, detecting hearing loss in children is not always easy. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at hearing loss in children and provide some common signs to watch out for.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss in Children?
According to hearing health statistics by the Hearing Loss Association of America, around two to three out of every 1,000 young children in the United States are born with some detectable level of hearing loss.
This could be in one (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). A child’s hearing loss can range from mild hearing loss to profound hearing loss and even deafness.
Here are a few things to be on the lookout for.
Inattention to Things Around Them
One of the most common signs of hearing loss in school-age and older children is general inattention.
Some chalk inattentiveness up to selective hearing; however, the lack of focus could be due to mild hearing loss.
Examples could include children not responding to a teacher’s request or simply not replying when someone calls their name.
Even subtle hearing loss can disrupt the ability to hear certain pitches and frequencies. So, difficulty hearing speech, especially in noisy environments, is not uncommon.
Difficulty Understanding What Others Are Saying
One tell-tale sign of hearing loss in children is difficulty following along in a conversation.
While it may look as if a child is uninterested, it could be that they simply can't keep up with what others are saying.
This is true in situations with a lot of background noise. One clue may be when a child says “what” repeatedly during a conversation, asking people to repeat themselves.
Family members sometimes notice children withdrawing from conversations due to difficulty and frustration.
Using Visual Cues While Listening
In addition to asking others to repeat themselves, you may notice visual cues from your child that show they’re struggling to listen.
For example, those with hearing difficulties often lean into a speaker to better hear speech sounds.
Also, some older children develop the ability to read lips without even realizing it. You may notice them looking at a speaker's mouth during conversations as they try to discern the words.
Another visual cue is facial expression.
You may notice an intense look on a child’s face as they work to hear sounds and simple words.
A Constant Need To Turn the Volume Up
Children with hearing loss may need the volume turned up much louder on the TV or device than other family members.
This may be a pattern that gets worse.
A volume that used to be suitable has become too low to understand. This also applies to tablets and video games.
You may notice that children are listening to these devices at an extremely loud volume. They may complain about not being able to hear any sound at lower levels.
Issues in Classroom Performance
Another subtle sign of hearing loss in children is problems in academic performance within the classroom.
They may fall behind in academic skills and not keep up with their peers.
This is one reason why hearing loss is routinely misdiagnosed with learning disorders; they present themselves in similar ways.
For example, hearing loss can impact reading skills, impeding a child’s ability to discern letter sounds. Many times this may get misdiagnosed as another condition, such as dyslexia.
Exhaustion at the End of the Day
The struggle to hear can be frustrating for children.
For many children, listening during conversations or classroom instruction takes a lot of effort and concentration.
It can be exhausting. You may notice a certain level of frustration coupled with extreme fatigue from your child at the end of the day.
Some children cope with these issues through poor behavior.
They may act out to get their frustration out that comes with the struggle to hear.
Issues with Balance
A common hearing loss sign that is often overlooked is balance issues.
The auditory and vestibular (balance) systems are closely aligned, making hearing and balance go hand in hand.
The inner ear shares many of the same nerve pathways as the vestibular system.
The inner ear also houses important components like the cochlea and auditory nerve, which are important for both hearing and balance.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss in Babies?
Most infants receive a newborn hearing screening test in the hospital to check for congenital hearing loss, but hearing loss can also develop after the fact.
Most signs of hearing loss in babies involve missing milestones.
Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Doesn’t startle at loud noises or sounds
- Doesn’t turn head at familiar sounds by six months of age
- Doesn’t make babbling noises
- Doesn’t understand hand motions like “bye-bye”
- Unable to follow simple commands or use simple words
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
There are three main types of hearing loss. These include conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss (a combination of the two). In children, conductive hearing loss is far more common.
Conductive Hearing Loss in Children
Conductive hearing loss occurs due to obstruction or trauma to the ear canal or middle.
In short, sounds cannot pass through to the middle and inner ear.
For children, otitis media (middle ear infection) is a common cause of conductive hearing loss. This is due to fluid buildup and inflammation.
Other common causes of conductive hearing loss in children include:
- Foreign bodies obstructing the ear canal and eardrum.
- A buildup of earwax (cerumen) in the ear canal.
- Fractures to the ossicles (bones in the middle ear).
- Eustachian tube dysfunction or blockage.
- Eardrum rupture from loud sounds
- Microtia and atresia (deformities to outer ear and ear canals).
- Illnesses like bacterial meningitis, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and rubella.
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed in Kids?
The first step is to consult your child’s pediatrician. They can refer you to an audiologist.
These hearing healthcare professionals can run tests, like audiometry exams (hearing test) and auditory brainstem response (ABR) tests, to help diagnose hearing loss.
Treatment options will vary depending on the type and cause of hearing loss.
In some cases, pediatric hearing aids may be necessary. More intensive treatment options include cochlear implants and bone conduction implants.
In cases of conductive hearing loss due to infection, medications like antibiotics may help relieve symptoms of temporary hearing loss and help restore normal hearing. Long-term interventions could include speech-language therapy, learning sign language, and behavioral interventions.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to hearing loss in children, early intervention is key.
Untreated hearing loss can disrupt a child’s speech and language development and put them well behind their peers.
While there are many causes of hearing loss, there are key signs to watch out for. If you suspect hearing loss in your child, consult your child’s pediatrician, who can get you in touch with an audiology professional.
Looking for more? Explore USA Rx’s Hearing Loss Resources here.