Many parents are concerned about their child's hearing, especially during the early years when infants can't communicate verbally. However, most children don't experience hearing problems. Three out of every 1000 newborns have hearing loss, which is often diagnosed during a routine hearing assessment they're given before leaving the hospital. Hearing loss can also develop later in life for various reasons, and your child's hearing can be evaluated at any age.
Hearing plays a critical role in child development, and even mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child's ability to speak and understand language. Detecting hearing loss early allows parents, teachers and doctors to better assist the child's development and assess corrective options.
There are three main types of hearing loss:
Review Signs of Normal Hearing to find a list of normal hearing behaviors and key signs to watch for as your child grows. If your baby isn't showing all the developmental signs of normal hearing, that doesn't necessarily mean he or she has a hearing problem, but it does mean an audiological evaluation should be performed.
If you have concerns about your child's responsiveness to sound, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and request an evaluation by a hearing specialist, called an audiologist. Most importantly, trust your intuition. If you feel that something just "isn't quite right" about your baby's responsiveness to sound, talk to your pediatrician.
Children are evaluated for hearing loss based on developmental abilities. Various tests are available to assess:
The evaluation is tailored to each child to make the test as efficient as possible. The testing may include:
A few causes of hearing loss are treatable in infants and children. If a child has a temporary hearing loss due to an ear infection, fluid behind the eardrum or excessive wax in the ear canal, their pediatrician or an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat specialist) can most likely treat the condition successfully. Other cases of hearing loss are caused by problems with the bone structures in the middle ear, and these can sometimes be treated surgically when the child is older, around 7 to 9 years old.
Sensorineural hearing loss, which is typically permanent hearing loss that's caused by a disorder affecting the cochlea or the auditory nerve, usually can't be treated with medication or surgery. However, it can be managed successfully with help from an audiologist and other experts. In addition, it's imperative that doctors fully evaluate children with hearing impairment for other disorders, including visual or kidney defects.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.