Hearing loss is sometimes thought of as something that only affects senior citizens, but most people with a hearing loss are actually below retirement age. Even babies or young children can be affected by hearing loss. In the United States alone, there are 1.4 million children with some degree of hearing loss. Here's what parents need to know about hearing loss in children.
What causes hearing loss in children?
There are many things that can cause hearing loss in children. About three-quarters of cases have a genetic cause, while the rest are non-genetic. There are more than 400 different genes that can cause hearing loss; most of these genes cause only hearing loss, though some can cause syndromes with a wide range of additional symptoms. Genetic testing may be required to figure out which genes are responsible for your child's hearing loss.
Genes aren't always responsible; sometimes, other factors can be involved. Some viral infections, such as meningitis, rubella, or cytomegalovirus, have the potential to cause hearing loss in babies and young children. Some medications can also damage a young child's hearing, such as some types of antibiotics. Jaundice, low birth weight, and other factors can also be responsible for causing hearing loss in children.
What are the signs of hearing loss in children?
Babies and small children can't tell you that they're having trouble hearing which makes it hard for parents to realize that there's anything wrong. You have to look for clues like not being startled by sudden loud noises, not being soothed by your voice, or not enjoying playing with noisy toys like bells and rattles. If you notice anything like this, you need to take your child to the doctor right away for a hearing test.
Is hearing loss in children permanent?
Hearing loss can be either temporary or permanent, depending on the exact cause of the hearing loss. Some genetic problems, such as deformities or blockages inside the ear, can be fixed with medicines or surgeries. Once these problems are treated, your child will be able to hear again. Hearing loss can also be permanent, which can happen if it's caused by non-genetic factors such as infections or medications. Your child's doctor will be able to let you know which type of hearing loss your child has.
How is permanent hearing loss treated?
If you find out that your child has permanent hearing loss, don't worry, since this is still manageable. Many hearing devices are available, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Hearing aids are external devices that magnify sound and make it easier for your child to hear the sounds around them. Cochlear implants perform the same function, but they are surgically implanted inside the ear. Neither of these treatments can restore your child's hearing to normal levels, but they can make a huge difference in their quality of life.
What kinds of hearing aids are available for children?
There are a few different styles of hearing aids. Some types of hearing aids are worn behind the ear, while others are custom-made to fit inside the ear canal. Young children are usually given behind-the-ear hearing aids since this style provides a better auditory signal. These hearing aids are very visible, but they come in bright colors that children will enjoy.
In-the-ear hearing aids are usually reserved for adults and older kids who are more conscious about their appearance, and have already learned language skills so the decrease in auditory signal won't harm their development.
Hearing loss isn't just a problem that seniors face; it's also a problem that affects babies and young children. If you think your child is one of them, make an appointment with your child's doctor right away.