What parents should know about hearing loss in children

Hearing issues can affect speech development, school performance

Sometimes children can experience hearing loss as they grow. Hearing loss in children can affect their speech development and performance in school.

Parents should be aware of the signs of hearing loss and their causes.

What causes hearing loss in children?

The most common cause for hearing loss in children after birth is otitis media — also commonly known as ear infections. It’s an inflammation in the middle ear that usually results in a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum.

Otitis media is most common in infants and young children. In fact, 75 percent of children will have at least one ear infection by the time they turn three. It’s also common for otitis media to cause temporary hearing loss –also called  fluctuating conductive hearing loss.

Fluid that builds up behind the eardrum can contain infected material or it can be non-infected. The fluid can build up due to Eustachian tube dysfunction.

“You have a tube that opens and closes when you swallow. It is inter-connected to the ear nose and throat,” said Janet Davila, ADC Audiologist. “The job of the Eustachian tube is to equalize the pressure behind the eardrum  with the atmospheric pressure in front of the eardrum.

“If the Eustachian tube does not do its job because it is inflamed, then  negative pressure will  up behind the eardrum. This  causes fluids to be drawn into the middle air space from the tissues surrounding the middle ear space. This is how fluid can build up behind the eardrum.”

A young child who is in the early process of learning to speak that has fluid behind the eardrums for an extended time may develop speech problems.

“If you can imagine what speech would sound like if you were under water — that is similar to  what  a child hears when there is fluid behind their eardrums,” Davila said. “They hear the vowel sounds, but the softer consonant sounds may sound muffled.”

If you notice your child does not say certain sounds correctly, you may want to have their hearing checked.

“If you have a child that is in the process of learning speech, and they are having articulation problems, it could be due to fluid behind the eardrum,” Davila said.

Children also learn or acquire different speech sounds at different age levels. There are many websites that will help you determine if your child’s speech and language progress is normal for their age and gender or not.

Other causes of acquired hearing loss in children include:

  • Loud noise
    Firecrackers, gun ranges, and music concerts can damage the hearing organ.
  • Other infections
    Mumps, meningitis, measles, whooping cough
  • Eardrum perforation
  • Severe head injuries
  • Some medications

Ear infection treatments

If your child has an ear infection, it’s important to treat the infection as soon as possible.

“If  an ear infection is untreated and it is present for a long period of time, the infection may cause more serious damage to the middle ear structures resulting in hearing loss ,” Davila said.

Recurring, untreated ear infections could result in permanent hearing loss. Your child’s pediatrician or ENT may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

Other signs of hearing problems in kids

Children cannot always articulate when they have a hearing problem. But there are signs parents should be aware of. If your child exhibits these signs, you may want to talk to his or her pediatrician about a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

Sitting too close to the TV or radio with the sound up

If a child turns up the volume on a television or music player and says they like it that loud, they may have a hearing problem.

Not responding to your call when other children do

If a child does not turn to the sound of your voice, they may not be ignoring you — they may not be able to hear you clearly.

Teachers report behavior problems; not paying attention in school

If your child’s teacher reports that they are not paying attention in class and becoming a behavior problem, a hearing issue may be the root cause.

Appears inattentive, frequently daydreams

There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming, but when it’s excessive or your child appears inattentive frequently, there may be a hearing issue.

“Sometimes those behavior problems are not  behavior problems. It could be that the child really is not hearing what is going on in the classroom.  They may have missed the teacher’s directions, but to the teacher, it may appear that the child is ignoring their directions.” Davila said.