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Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Pediatric Hearing Loss

In order to learn, children rely on their ability to hear just as much as they rely on the visual cues they receive from their parents. Hearing ability is essential in the development of speech and language skills, but it is also necessary for proper emotional and mental development. As a result, children with untreated hearing disorders are more likely to suffer from social and emotional problems in both early and later life.

Causes and Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Children

Hearing loss may be present at birth (congenital), result from trauma or illnesses during childhood (acquired), or fluctuate due to frequent ear infections (transient). All of these classifications of hearing loss can cause developmental problems, so parents, teachers, and pediatricians should be on the lookout for common signs of hearing loss problems.

As an infant grows, he should begin to react to the sounds around him, startling at loud noises and smiling or responding to his parents’ voices. If your child fails to meet these hearing developmental milestones, it could be a sign of pediatric hearing loss.

There are several possible causes of hearing loss in children, including:

  • Birth complications. A baby who suffers a lack of oxygen during labor or delivery, requires a blood transfusion, or is born prematurely or with a low birth weight is at higher risk for hearing loss.
     
  • Prenatal factors. A mother who has a severe infection (such as herpes or German measles), is taking ototoxic medications, smokes cigarettes, or abuses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy is more likely to give birth to a child with congenital hearing loss.
     
  • Genetic factors. Many children are born with hearing loss due to combinations or defects in the parents’ genes. In autosomal hearing loss, parents may transmit hearing loss via a recessive or dominant gene. In addition, children may suffer from genetic syndromes that cause hearing difficulties, including Usher syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, Down syndrome, Treacher Collins syndrome, and Alport syndrome.
     
  • Injuries and diseases. Children may suffer hearing loss as a side effect of a serious medical condition during childhood. Infections such as measles, mumps, meningitis, or whooping cough can cause permanent hearing losses, while diseases such as otosclerosis or Meniere’s disease can cause a child to lose more and more hearing ability as years go by. A child who suffers a traumatic brain injury, excessive noise exposure, a perforated eardrum, or is constantly exposed to secondhand smoke can also develop hearing loss.
     
  • Ear infections. Over half of all children in the U.S. will suffer an ear infection by the time they reach their third birthday. This is because the Eustachian tube, which equalizes air pressure in the middle ear, is very narrow during childhood and is often blocked by swelling or fluid. While hearing loss caused by ear infections is usually temporary, failure to treat chronic ear infections can damage to the eardrum or auditory nerve, making future hearing loss more likely.

Why Should I Be Concerned About Pediatric Hearing Loss?

Hearing problems may begin in childhood, but can affect opportunities and well-being for a person’s entire life. Even a child with mild hearing loss may not be able to understand language or be able to speak clearly enough to be understood. Children may become frustrated at their inability to communicate, causing them to lash out at classmates, or withdraw due to embarrassment or anxiety. A hearing problem can affect a child’s ability to make friends, cause a learning disability or academic deficit, and can even affect career choices in adulthood.

Early Detection Is Key to Effective Treatment for Pediatric Hearing Loss

The good news is that early diagnosis and intervention for infant hearing loss is much more likely to benefit a child than treatment that is begun later in life. Ideally, newborns should undergo hearing screenings by the time they are one month old, and should be treated for hearing loss before they are three months old.

Our Philadelphia-area hearing care specialists can perform a comprehensive hearing exam to determine the cause and proper treatment for your child’s condition. Depending on the degree and type of hearing loss in your child, he or she may benefit from hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech therapy, or other forms of treatment. We can also remove wax buildup and other obstructions in the ear canal that may be causing temporary hearing loss. Call the number on this page to speak with one of our hearing professionals today!