Childhood Hearing Loss

Child Health Day: Early Signs of Hearing Loss

Photo Courtesy of Today Show

Photo Courtesy of Today Show

Hearing loss in infants is a hidden disability. Infants can't express themselves or alert parents that there is a problem. That's why it's important for parents to understand and look for signs of hearing loss. Some of these include:

Newborn/Infant:

  • Not startling or awakening at loud noises (0-3 months)
  • Not calming at familiar voices (0-3 months)
  • Not responding (smiling, cooing) to your voice when spoken to (4-6 months)
  • Not turning toward sounds (4-9 months)
  • Not showing normal babbling development (4-9 months)

Baby/Toddler:

  • Not babbling different voices (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to his/her name (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to changes in your tone of voice (9-15 months)
  • Not repeating some sounds you make (9-15 months)

Regardless if your infant is showing signs of hearing loss, we hope that parents take advantage of our free hearing screenings next Tuesday in Crozet. The procedure is quick and painless for infants and provides peace of mind for parents. It's a win-win! 

More information about infant and childhood hearing loss can be found here on our web site. 

Ear Infections, Hearing Loss, and Speech Development

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media, also simply referred to as a middle ear infection, is inflammation in the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) that is usually associated with the buildup of fluid. When infection occurs, the condition is called "acute otitis media." This is when a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection, and the presence of bacteria or viruses, lead to the accumulation of pus and mucus behind the eardrum, blocking the Eustachian tube (the tube from the back of the ear to the mouth). Fluid can remain in the ear for weeks to many months. 

Otitis media is the most frequently diagnosed disease in infants and young children.

75% of children experience at least one episode of otitis media
by their third birthday.
Almost 1/2 of these children will have
three or more ear infections during their first 3 years of life.

Why is Otitis Media So Common in Children?

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because of the location of their ear canal. Until the age of 6 or 7 years, a child’s Eustachian tube is small and horizontal, making it susceptible to fluid build-up and blockages due to large adenoids and infections. As the skull matures and grows, the Eustachian tube becomes more vertical in position and more natural drainage takes place.

Otitis Media and Hearing Loss

All children with middle ear infection or fluid have some degree of hearing loss. Generally, the type of hearing loss associated with ear infections is temporary. 

The average hearing loss in ears with fluid is 24 decibels (the level of a very soft whisper). At this level of hearing loss, soft sounds, such as "S" and "Sh" may not be heard. Thicker fluid can cause much more loss, up to 45 decibels (the range of conversational speech).

Hearing loss becomes a bigger issue when otitis media occurs over and over again, and damage to the eardrum, bones of the ear, or even the hearing nerve can occur and cause a more permanent, sensorineural hearing loss.

Otitis Media and Speech Development

Essentially, a child experiencing hearing loss from middle ear infections will hear muffled sounds and misunderstand speech rather than incur a complete hearing loss. Even so, the consequences can be significant.

Communication development is at its peak from 12 months through four years of age. Children learn speech and language from listening to other people talk. Fluctuating hearing loss during that time interferes with learning speech and language. Similar words may sound the same. They may not hear final consonants, past tense, and plural word endings. Therefore, they may not learn how to say words properly. 

Otitis media without infection presents a special problem because symptoms of pain and fever are usually not present. Therefore, weeks and even months can go by before parents suspect a problem. During this time, the child may miss out on some of the information that can influence speech and language development, especially during the formative preschool years.

When to Seek Help

Ear infections require immediate attention, most likely from a pediatrician or otolaryngologist (ear doctor). If your child has frequently recurring infections and/or chronic fluid in the middle ear, additional specialists, such as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist, should be consulted.

Children experiencing recurring ear infections or fluid build-up should be closely monitored for any signs of speech and language delay. It has been reported that 1/3 of children receiving therapy for speech and language delay have a reported history of recurrent ear infections. Prevention, early recognition, and treatment of ear infections is important.

If you have any questions, wish to speak with Dr. Cameron and/or Dr. Garber about your concerns, or wish to make an appointment to have your child tested for hearing loss, please contact us.

In the Back-to-School Hustle, Don’t Forget About Hearing!

Did you know that approximately five out of every 1,000 children have a hearing impairment, or that 25%-35% of kids with hearing loss in even just one ear risk failing a grade level?

Children learn a great deal through visual and auditory cues, so it’s imperative that their hearing and vision is checked regularly to help them reach their full potential.

We recommend that parents schedule a hearing test with an audiologist annually or at least every two years for the family – especially if your child has/had speech delays and/or learning disabilities. At the very least, we’d like to arm parents with the most common signs to watch for in school-aged children. These include:

  • Frequently turning up the TV, computer, phone or tablet
  • Having difficulty with phone conversations
  • Responding to questions inappropriately
  • Watching others closely to mimic their actions
  • Asking “what?” or “huh?” more often that what is normal for your child
  • Not responding when you call their name
  • Complaining of frequent earaches or headaches
  • Withdrawing academically or socially

Of course, every child is different. And, every parent knows their child best. But, if your child is experiencing two or more of the signs above and you have even the slightest hunch that it could be their hearing, please schedule a hearing screening with your family doctor or an audiologist! In the meantime, parents can help by:

  • Reducing Noise Exposure! - More than 5 million youth ages 6 to 19 have permanent hearing damage due to noise, one of the most preventable causes. Reducing noise from everyday devices, such as personal electronics, gaming systems, the car stereo, and the family TV, and providing hearing protection in noisy environments (e.g. concerts, firework shows, parades, loud stadiums) can help dramatically. A general rule of thumb for earbuds and headphones is if you are standing next to your child and can hear the noise, it’s too loud.
  • Talking to the Teachers/School - Teachers and administrators are crucial to helping kids hear their best during the school day, with classroom seating arrangements, loop systems, closed captioning, and other supportive options. They can also help identify possible signs of hearing loss if it’s suspected. 

We are here to listen and help! We offer free screenings, so if you suspect your child has a hearing loss, please contact us!

Signs of Infant Hearing Loss

On Tuesday, May 24, our Crozet office location is partnering with Crozet Eye Care to offer free hearing and vision tests for infants ages 6-12 months. Virginia is a state that requires hearing screenings for all newborns; however, according to the American Academy of Audiology, these screenings may miss auditory neuropathy, mild hearing loss, those with cytomegalovirus (CMV) - a member of the herpes virus family that can be transferred to an infant at birth and is known to cause permanent hearing loss, and infants susceptible to diseases like otitis. 

Hearing loss in infants is a hidden disability. Infants can't express themselves or alert parents that there is a problem. That's why it's important for parents to understand and look for signs of hearing loss. Some of these include:

Newborn/Infant:

  • Not startling or awakening at loud noises (0-3 months)
  • Not calming at familiar voices (0-3 months)
  • Not responding (smiling, cooing) to your voice when spoken to (4-6 months)
  • Not turning toward sounds (4-9 months)
  • Not showing normal babbling development (4-9 months)

Baby/Toddler:

  • Not babbling different voices (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to his/her name (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to changes in your tone of voice (9-15 months)
  • Not repeating some sounds you make (9-15 months)

Regardless if your infant is showing signs of hearing loss, we hope that parents take advantage of our free hearing screenings next Tuesday in Crozet. The procedure is quick and painless for infants and provides peace of mind for parents. It's a win-win! 

More information about infant and childhood hearing loss can be found here on our web site.