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In the U.S., between two and three percent of all children are born deaf or hearing impaired. Since early detection and intervention is key, the majority of states offer hearing screenings for newborns. If hearing concerns are detected, further testing is performed to determine if a child suffers from a hearing-impairment.

Any type of hearing loss can cause a serious problem in a child’s development. Hearing loss can undermine the development of a child’s language skills, which most experts believe takes place during the first few months and years of life. When left undiagnosed and untreated, pediatric hearing impairment can cause a child to develop serious language problems.

However, despite the importance of early detection, identifying hearing loss can be difficult until a child begins to also show speech and other developmental delays. In many cases, children with hearing-impairments go unidentified until the age of two. Fortunately for parents of young children, several techniques allow for the testing of a child’s hearing, regardless of age.

Causes of Children’s Hearing Loss

A child can suffer from hearing loss due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Otitis media. A middle ear infection that often occurs in young children with underdeveloped Eustachian tubes, otitis media causes fluid to build up behind the eardrums, which can then become infected. Even if a child experiences no infection or discomfort, a buildup of fluid can still cause temporary hearing-impairment. In severe cases, otitis media can cause permanent hearing loss.
  • Congenital factors. Occasionally a child is born with a hearing problem as a result of either genetic factors or because of problems stemming from the prenatal development of a child or childbirth complications. Over half of all hearing problems related to congenital factors are due to genetics. A child can also develop hearing loss if the mother develops conditions such as toxemia or diabetes while pregnant. A child born prematurely also has a higher risk of developing a hearing problem.
  • Acquired hearing loss. Multiple conditions can cause a young child to experience hearing problems, including such illnesses as influenza, chickenpox, measles, encephalitis, and meningitis. Head trauma, extremely loud noises, and adverse reactions to specific medications can also cause acquired hearing loss.

Symptoms and Signs of Hearing Loss

Since a parent is most likely the first person to notice a hearing problem, it’s important to know the early signs that a child may have a hearing problem. These signs can include:

  • Not responding to your voice
  • Failing to react to loud noises
  • Making simplistic sounds that eventually fade away

If your child is suffering from otitis media he or she may also:

  • Tug or pull an ear
  • Stay consistently irritable for no clear reason
  • Become inattentive or listless
  • Complain of ear pain
  • Run a fever
  • Ask for things to become louder, like the TV or radio

If you suspect your child may suffer from hearing-impairment, talk with your doctor about scheduling more in-depth testing.

Treatment Options

The type of condition and degree of hearing loss will determine what treatment options best suit your child.

For otitis media, the most common treatment include:

  • Staying patient. Since the condition frequently clears up on its own, often the best initial treatment for otitis media is to stay patient and monitor a child for any changes.
  • Medications. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics or additional medications.
  • Tubes in the ear. For children who suffer from reoccurring otitis media, a doctor may elect to place tubes in a child’s ear, which allows fluid to drain and help to prevent infection.

For children suffering from a more permanent form of hearing loss, treatment options can include:

  • Hearing aids. Children suffering from hearing loss can start to use hearing aid at the age of one month.
  • Implants. Cochlear implants, electrical devices that aid with hearing, have become more popular with children and adults in recent years.

Talk with your pediatrician to find the right treatment method for your child.

Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work visit the website of Dr. Lance Bailey, a Portland dentist.


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