Hearing well is critical to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development. When hearing problems are diagnosed early, most are treatable. So it’s important to have your little one’s hearing tested, ideally by the time your baby is 3 months old.
Hearing loss is more common that you’d probably expect. It affects about 1 to 3 babies out of every 1,000.
Although many things can lead to hearing loss, about half the time, no cause is found.
Hearing loss can occur if a child:
• Was born prematurely
• Stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
• Had newborn jaundice with bilirubin level high enough to require a blood transfusion
• Was given medications that can lead to hearing loss
• Has family members with childhood hearing loss
• Had certain complications at birth
• Had many ear infections
• Had infections such as meningitis or cytomegalovirus
• Was exposed to very loud sounds or noises, even briefly
When should your child be evaluated for hearing loss? Newborns should have a hearing screening before being discharged from the hospital. Every state and territory in the U.S. has a program called Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI). The program identifies every child with permanent hearing loss before 3 months of age, and provides intervention services before 6 months of age. If your baby doesn't have this screening, or was born at home or a birthing center, it's important to have a hearing screening within the first 3 weeks of life.
If your newborn doesn't pass the initial hearing screening, it's important to get a retest within 3 months so treatment can begin right away. Treatment for hearing loss can be the most effective if it's started before a child is 6 months old.
Children who seem to have normal hearing should continue to have their hearing evaluated at regular doctor’s appointments from ages 4 to 10 years of age.
If your child seems to have trouble hearing, if speech development seems abnormal, or if your child's speech is difficult to understand, talk with your doctor.
Even if your newborn passes the hearing screening, continue to watch for signs that hearing is normal. Some hearing milestones your child should reach in the first year of life:
• Most newborn infants startle or "jump" to sudden loud noises.
• By 3 months, a baby usually recognizes a parent's voice.
• By 6 months, a baby can usually turn his or her eyes or head toward a sound.
• By 12 months, a baby can usually imitate some sounds and produce a few words, such as "Mama" or "bye-bye."
As your baby grows into a toddler, signs of a hearing loss may include:
• Limited, poor, or no speech
• Frequently inattentive
• Difficulty learning
• Seems to need higher TV volume
• Fails to respond to conversation-level speech or answers inappropriately to speech
• Fails to respond to his or her name or easily frustrated when there's a lot of background noise
There are several ways your child’s hearing can be tested depending on his or her age, development and health.
During behavioral tests, an audiologist carefully watches a child respond to sounds like calibrated speech (speech that is played with a particular volume and intensity) and pure tones. A pure tone is a sound with a very specific pitch (frequency), like a note on a keyboard.
An audiologist may know an infant or toddler is responding by his or her eye movements or head turns. A preschooler may move a game piece in response to a sound, and a grade-schooler may raise a hand. Children can respond to speech with activities like identifying a picture of a word or repeating words softly.
Doctors can also examine a child for hearing loss by looking at how well his or her ear, nerves and brain are functioning.
If a hearing problem is suspected, a pediatric audiologist specializing in testing and helping kids with hearing loss can be contacted. They work closely with doctors, teachers, and speech/language pathologists.
Audiologists have a lot of specialized training. They have a Masters or Doctorate degree in audiology, have performed internships, and are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CCC-A) or are Fellows of the American Academy of Audiology (F-AAA).
Children with certain types of hearing loss have several options for treatment. They may be helped with surgery or hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss involves outer hair cells that do not work properly. Hearing aids can make sounds louder and overcome this problem.
A cochlear implant is a surgical treatment for hearing loss; this device doesn't cure hearing loss, but is a device that gets placed into the inner ear to send sound directly to the hearing nerve. It can help children with profound hearing loss who do not benefit from hearing aids.
Making sure that your child is hearing well is one of the first steps you can take to helping him or her do well socially, academically and developmentally.
Story source: Thierry Morlet, PhD, Rupal Christine Gupta, MD,