What to do if your child is showing signs of hearing loss

Posted by iChild, January 29, 2020 10:14 AM

By Ben Meredith, audiologist and Senior Clinical Specialist from hearing specialists, MED-EL

Hearing loss affects thousands of families across the UK but when you become a parent knowing the signs in your own child can be difficult. While approximately 1 in 1000 children are born with permanent hearing loss, many will develop it over time.

Ben Meredith offers his advice on what to do if you suspect your baby or child may be experiencing hearing problems. 

The thought that your child might have hearing problems can be a scary prospect but you shouldn’t be afraid; there are so many things that can be done and there is a strong network of people in the same boat to support you along the way and ensure they have the best life, whatever the outcome.

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During the first two weeks of your baby’s life, you will have access to the new-born hearing screen which involves placing a little probe inside the baby’s ear and monitoring to see if there is a healthy response. While most of the time, the results are completely fine, if they are not, your baby will be retested on another day – and then referred for further audiology testing. Reassuringly, doctors are usually very fast to pick up on any hearing problems in babies so do make sure you attend these tests as a priority. 

The Causes

As your child continues to grow you might notice signs of hearing loss and it’s up to you as a parent to spot these.

A very common cause in younger children is something widely called ‘glue ear’ which is a temporary hearing loss that can come and go. It is essentially fluid build-up behind the eardrum and frequently resolves itself after a few weeks or months and is often linked with recent coughs or cold in children who are much more prone to it than adults. Some children, particularly those with other health conditions such as a cleft palate or Down Syndrome, are more likely to get it and in those cases it can be a long-standing problem.

There is a chance for children to get permanent hearing loss as they get older but that is rare.  The main things that can cause this are infections such as measles, mumps, meningitis or sometimes even chickenpox, so it’s important to react quickly when you see symptoms of any of these diseases.

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Main Signs of Hearing Loss in your Child

While the signs of hearing loss will depend on the age of your child, the most common to look out for are:

  • - They may talk more loudly than usual.
  • - Their speech isn’t as developed as it should be for their age.
  • - They don’t always respond to you calling them, especially if they’re in a different room.
  • - Their speech seems to be unclear.
  • - You notice them sitting very close to the TV or computer screen in order to listen, or have the volume turned up excessively.  (N.B. a lot of children like to do this anyway so don’t panic unnecessarily!)
  • - They may struggle to tell which direction sounds are coming from. 

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What should you do?

If you notice a problem, the first thing you should do is seek medical advice from your GP, mention it to your school nurse, or if your child is younger, speak to your health visitor.  If they are at all concerned, they will send your child for an assessment at an Audiology clinic and you should be seen within six weeks although this can be sooner if Audiology arrange a more urgent appointment.

Treatments for children

The solution to hearing loss is very much dependent on the type and degree and it is tiered by mild, moderate, severe or profound - and whether the hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or a mixed hearing loss.  Whether the hearing loss is thought to be temporary or permanent will also be a factor. 

When it comes to glue ear, and minor cases, the best thing to do is to monitor your child’s hearing as it will often clear up by itself or you may be given advice on ‘hearing tactics’ which are strategies to help lessen the effects of hearing loss in everyday life. 

However, if the hearing loss is causing significant problems to a children’s ability to listen, you can get a bone conduction aid such as an ADHEAR, or a conventional hearing aid.  There are also surgical procedures such as grommets that are used to treat the condition. The hospital will discuss with you the course of treatment that is most suitable for your child.

Bone conduction implants or middle ear implants are also available for children who need them.

As your child gets older, a Speech Therapist and Teacher of the Deaf can become involved if required.  These professionals can help them undertake a number of different activities that will help them develop their speech and listening. 

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Treatment for babies

Early intervention is very important when it comes to babies. During the first few months, infants learn to understand a variety of sounds around them. They can very quickly distinguish between speech and other environmental sounds. The first few years are especially important for language acquisition. In general, the lower a child’s age when receiving a hearing device, the easier it will be for him or her to learn to use and benefit from it. A younger child is better able to adapt to new information, and when children are provided with a hearing device at a very young age, they have the best chance to develop clear spoken language and can often “catch up” with others.

If babies have hearing loss that’s affecting their ability to listen for a significant period of time, they can wear conventional hearing aids or bone conduction aids.

If the loss is profound, they may be referred for an assessment for cochlear implants which are surgically implanted devices that provide hearing, using electric signals which directly stimulate the nerve of hearing.  However, some families may opt not to have the hearing loss treated medically, and instead explore the option of using sign language as their child’s main mode of communication.

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Ask for help and don’t be afraid

My advice would be not to simply do tests at home; seek medical advice if you’re concerned, and don’t panic - you’re not alone.  The majority of hearing loss can be temporary – and those who do have hearing loss live full and happy lives!  If an implant is an option for your child, there are also peer support groups that you can talk to – they are often volunteers who have been through an implant process themselves or parents of children who are.  HearPeers Mentors are a great starting point.”

By Ben Meredith, audiologist and Senior Clinical Specialist from hearing specialists, MED-EL

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