There is nothing quite like the smile on a baby’s face as they hear their parents coo over them, or the excitement you get from hearing them learn to talk. Unfortunately, not all babies and young children can hear. What can hearing loss mean for a child, and what can parents do to make sure their children don’t grow up in a world of silence?
Hearing is very important because it is a key way children learn to speak, it’s an important part of brain development in a child’s first three years, and it helps parents form bonds with their children.
“Oftentimes when we think of hearing loss, we think of aiding the ear itself,” CEENTA Audiologist Melissa Wheaton Horning, AuD, said. “What we are really doing is helping the brain turn sounds into meaningful language. This is why it is crucial for children to be fit with hearing aids at a young age. The brain is the most important part of the hearing system, and hearing aids are the gateway for delivering sound.”
Why might my child have hearing loss?
A very small number of babies – about two of every 1,000 – are born with hearing loss. About five of every 1,000 children between the ages of 3 and 17 have hearing loss.
If a child is born with hearing loss, it is often caused by a premature birth, the use of some medicines during pregnancy, an infection during pregnancy, maternal diabetes, drug or alcohol abuse or smoking during pregnancy, or other birth complications. Sometimes there are no risk factors at all. The majority of children with hearing loss are born to normal hearing parents.
Older children can lose their hearing from illness – such as meningitis, chicken pox, or the flu – or injury – such as a head injury or damage from loud noise.
There are milestones parents can look for to make sure their children’s hearing is normal. For example, at about two months old a child with normal hearing should startle when they hear loud noises and should quiet down when they hear familiar voices. At about six months old babies will begin to turn their head toward loud sounds and will begin to make “baby talk” sounds. If your child isn’t meeting those milestones, a pediatric hearing evaluation is recommended, Dr. Horning said.
What are hearing tests like?
Babies born in North and South Carolina have hearing screenings before they are discharged from the hospital. If they don’t pass the screening, they are given an additional test. This is completed while the child is sleeping and is designed to measure the softest level the auditory nerve can detect. This test is ideal for children less than 6 months old. For older babies, they are given behavioral auditory tests. When they hear sounds and look in that direction they are rewarded with the activation of a lighted toy, Dr. Horning said. As children get older, conditioned play is added to the tests. For example, they are taught to build a tower with blocks every time they hear a sound.
What if my child needs hearing aids?
Children can be fitted with behind-the-ear hearing aids, which are specially designed to make sure they fit snugly and securely. As the child grows older, the molds that fit into the ear can be replaced, so the child can grow with them instead of needing to replace the entire hearing aid every few years.
It is important parents ensure their children are wearing their hearing aids. They should also test them daily to make sure they are operating properly, the battery is working, they are clean, and they are comfortable.
If a hearing aid is not sufficient, a child can be fitted with a cochlear implant. These devices consist of two parts: an external component that includes a microphone, a speech processor, and a transmitter, and a surgically-implanted internal receiver. The external piece picks up the sound, and the internal receiver converts the sounds into electrical pulses. Those pulses are transmitted directly to the auditory nerve. Children are considered for cochlear implants when they have significant hearing loss in both ears and get very little, if any, benefit from hearing aids.
Help make sure your child isn’t living a life of silence. Bring them to CEENTA to have their hearing tested today.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an appointment with Dr. Horning or any of CEENTA’s audiologists, call 704-295-3300.