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Detecting & Treating Hearing Loss in Children

by UPMC Susquehanna



By: Jennifer Rager-Kay, DO
Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist, UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury

May marks Better Hearing Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness regarding hearing loss and treatment as well as proactively protecting your hearing. Hearing loss is sometimes more difficult to diagnose in children. Parents are in the best position to detect hearing loss in their children, but it is not always noticeable right away. How can you identify and treat hearing loss in your child? First, it’s important to understand the two types of hearing loss: congenital and acquired.

Types of Hearing Loss
In Pennsylvania, infants are screened at birth to detect and address congenital hearing loss. Congenital means the child was born with it, either as an inherited trait or as a result of a complication during pregnancy and delivery. Acquired hearing loss is far more common and can happen anytime throughout childhood. Children may acquire hearing loss from an injury, disease, infection, or noise exposure.

Common Culprits
A common cause of acquired hearing loss is an ear infection. Children commonly develop inflammation of the middle ear because the small shape of the ear passage is easily blocked and retains fluid, which can lead to infections causing temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Exposure to extremely loud noises is another leading cause of acquired hearing loss. How loud is too loud? A good rule is to watch for any time a child claps hands over his or her ears. When it comes to headphones or earbuds, if you can hear the volume while your child is wearing them, the sound is too loud. Powerful sound systems and loud crowds at a concert, sporting event, or movie theater can reach unsafe volumes, so plan to bring ear plugs or ear covers for protection.

Early Detection is Key
When a child does not have normal hearing, he or she can be delayed in speech and language development. Without assistance to correct that hearing loss, the auditory cortex of the brain can be permanently impacted. Children are screened for hearing loss prior to kindergarten and then again in first, third, fifth, seventh, and eleventh grades.

At your child’s check-ups, the doctor looks for certain development milestones, such as babbling at around six months, forming words at around one year, and linking words together into sentences by age two.

Signs you should watch for between these screening tests include:

  • Misunderstanding or frequently responding “I didn’t hear you” or “what” when spoken to
  • Requesting louder volumes on a television or electronic device
  • Regularly tilting the same ear toward you when listening
  • Not paying attention  
  • Unexplained irritability
  • Pulling or tugging at the ears