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Hearing loss is being partly or totally unable to hear sound in one or both ears.
Newborns are usually given a hearing screening shortly after birth. If your infant did not receive such a screening, then be sure to make an appointment by 1 month of age. All children who do not pass a hearing screening should have a full hearing test (an audiology evaluation).
Hearing loss can affect a child's ability to develop speech, language and social skills. The earlier children with hearing loss start getting services, the more likely they are to reach their full potential. If you suspect your child has hearing loss, trust your instincts and speak with your child's doctor. Our Ear & Hearing Center can help.
Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Ear Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology).
Causes & Risk Factors
Three types of hearing loss:
- Congenital (present at birth)
- Conductive hearing loss (occurs because of a mechanical problem in the outer or middle ear)
- Sensorineural hearing loss (occurs when the tiny hair cells that detect sound in the inner ear are injured or diseased. This type of hearing loss often cannot be reversed.)
- Birth defects
- Genetic conditions
- Infections the mother passes to her baby in the womb (such as toxoplasmosis, rubella, or herpes)
- Build-up of wax in the ear canal
- Damage to the very small bones (ossicles) that conduct sound from the ear drum to the inner ear
- Persistent fluid behind the ear drum following an infection
- Foreign object in the ear canal
- Hole in the eardrum
- Scarring on the eardrum
- Childhood infections, such as meningitis, mumps, scarlet fever and measles
- Meniere's disease
- Regular exposure to loud noises
- Certain medications
Risk factors include:
- Chronic ear infections
- Family history of childhood hearing loss
- Hospitalization in a neonatal intensive care unit
- Congenital ear malformations
- Malformations and tumors of the ear and temporal bone
- Speech and language delay
- Constant exposure to loud music or noise
Symptoms & Types
- Child does not pay attention to sounds
- Child shows delay in learning to talk and in learning language
- Child has difficulty achieving in school and is socially isolated
- Child has persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise on a regular basis
Our website has a speech and hearing checklist for parents to use to evaluate milestones that can affect hearing development for infants and children.
Diagnosis & Tests
Your child's doctor will perform a physical examination to narrow down what could cause the hearing loss.
You will most likely be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the ear, nose and throat. If the otolaryngologist determines your child needs to have a hearing test, you will be referred to an audiologist.
An audiologist, an expert trained to test hearing, can do many kinds of tests to find out if a child or adolescent has a hearing loss, how much of a hearing loss there is and what type it is.
The hearing tests are not painful.
Treatment & Care
Treatment depends on the type of hearing loss. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include:
- A hearing aid
- Removing impacted earwax or foreign object from the ear
- Protecting your child's ears from loud noises
- Cochlear implant
Adolescents are particularly at risk of early hearing loss.
- They tend to frequently listen to loud music either through ear buds or headphones or at a concert with no hearing protection.
- Wear hearing protection to a concert. Today's hearing protection comes in many colors and designs and is not easily seen, particularly if the teen's hairstyle covers the ears.
- If your adolescent has a job where loud noise is frequent, you should make sure that hearing protection is offered.
Living & Managing
Living with hearing loss and coping techniques depend on the cause of the loss. If hearing loss is caused by something simple such as impacted earwax, having the earwax removed improves hearing.
If your child has a hearing loss for which a hearing aid is needed, the good news is that many types of hearing aids today are not clunky like the ones worn in the past.
Remember: the sooner a hearing loss is identified, the better the chance for a good outcome.