Hearing Loss in Children – Types and Diagnosis
Hearing loss in children can have a significant impact on their development, education, and social interaction. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the different types of hearing loss and how they are diagnosed to ensure early intervention and appropriate treatment.
At South Shore Hearing Center in Massachusetts, we’re able to diagnose patients of all ages, including children and infants.
Types of Hearing Loss in Children
There are three main types of hearing loss in children: conductive, sensorineural, and mixed.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are not conducted efficiently through the outer ear, eardrum, or middle ear. This type of hearing loss is often caused by blockages, such as earwax, fluid buildup, or tumors, and can be temporary or permanent.
Conductive hearing loss typically affects the ability to hear soft sounds, and speech may sound muffled or distorted.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the nerve pathways that transmit sound from the inner ear to the brain.
This type of hearing loss is often caused by genetic factors, noise exposure, infections, or medication, and it can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Sensorineural hearing loss typically affects the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, and speech may sound unclear or difficult to understand.
Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors, such as trauma, infection, or a tumor, and it can range from mild to severe.
Diagnosis of Hearing Loss in Children
Diagnosing hearing loss in children can be difficult, as young children may not be able to communicate their hearing difficulties effectively.
Therefore, it is essential to identify the signs of hearing loss and seek professional help if there are any concerns.
Some signs of hearing loss in children include:
- Not responding to sounds or voices
- Delayed speech or language development
- Misunderstanding or misinterpreting instructions
- Turning up the volume on electronic devices
- Avoiding social interaction or noisy environments
(For a comprehensive list please visit our Pediatrics page)
If a child exhibits any of these signs, they should be evaluated by an audiologist or a hearing specialist. The diagnostic process typically involves a series of tests that measure the child’s hearing ability and identify the type and severity of hearing loss.
The first step in the diagnostic process is a hearing screening, which is a quick and straightforward test that checks the child’s ability to hear different frequencies and volumes.
If the screening indicates potential hearing loss, the child will be referred for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
A comprehensive hearing evaluation typically includes several tests, such as:
- Pure-tone audiometry: This test measures the softest sounds the child can hear at different frequencies.
- Speech audiometry: This test measures the child’s ability to hear and understand speech.
- Tympanometry: This test measures the movement of the eardrum in response to changes in air pressure, which can help identify conductive hearing loss.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs): This test measures the sounds produced by the inner ear in response to sound stimuli and can help identify sensorineural hearing loss.
Based on the results of these tests, the audiologist can determine the type and severity of hearing loss and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Treatment Options for Hearing Loss in Children
The treatment options for hearing loss in children depend on the type and severity of hearing loss, as well as the child’s age and overall health.
For conductive hearing loss, the treatment options may include:
- Medication: If the hearing loss is caused by an infection or inflammation, medication may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation or clear the infection.
- Surgery: If the hearing loss is caused by a blockage, such as earwax or a tumor, surgery may be necessary to remove the blockage and restore normal hearing.
For sensorineural hearing loss, the treatment options may include:
- Hearing aids: Hearing aids are small electronic devices that amplify sound and improve the child’s ability to hear. They are available in a variety of styles and can be customized to fit the child’s specific needs.
- Cochlear implants: Cochlear implants are electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the inner ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged hair cells in the inner ear. They are typically recommended for children with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss who do not benefit from hearing aids.
For mixed hearing loss, the treatment options may include a combination of the above treatments, depending on the type and severity of hearing loss.
Helping Children with Hearing Loss
Early intervention is crucial for the success of any hearing loss treatment. Studies have shown that children who receive early intervention for hearing loss have better language and speech development, academic achievement, and social-emotional well-being than those who do not receive early intervention.
In addition to medical interventions, there are also several strategies that parents and caregivers can use to help children with hearing loss, such as:
- Providing a quiet and distraction-free environment for communication
- Using visual cues, such as facial expressions and gestures, to supplement verbal communication
- Speaking clearly and facing the child when speaking
- Encouraging the child to ask for clarification if they do not understand something
Using assistive technology, such as captioning or FM systems, to improve communication in noisy environments
Infant Hearing Screenings in Massachusetts
If you have a newborn or infant, you may benefit from a hearing screening for your child. Since as many as 3-4 babies out of every 1000 will have some form of hearing loss at birth, it’s worth putting your mind at ease by knowing for sure if your baby is one of the few.
It’s a simple and painless process where a machine will be able to tell if your baby is able to respond to sounds.
You’ll even receive the results before you leave the hospital. By spotting potential hearing problems earlier, it can make your and your child’s quality of life better in the long run. If there happens to be a problem with your child’s hearing, they will go on to receive one of the treatments mentioned above.
You can find out more about hearing screenings and available resources for infants and children on the mass.gov website.
We offer a comprehensive range of hearing healthcare services catering to children of all age groups. Our team collaborates closely with families and schools to ensure that each child receives personalized care and attention.
We strive to provide a holistic approach to hearing health, addressing not only the medical aspects, but also the emotional and social needs of the child.
Hearing Problem Solutions in Hanover and South Weymouth, MA
At South Shore Hearing Center, we understand the importance of early detection and treatment of hearing loss in children.
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing hearing difficulties, we recommend scheduling a hearing assessment with one of our experienced audiologists.
Even if your child’s school does not offer hearing screenings, we encourage parents to seek out professional hearing assessments every two to three years to monitor their child’s hearing health.
Our team is dedicated to providing personalized and effective solutions to help your child hear better and thrive.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about how we can help.