Is Your Child at Risk for Hearing Loss?
We reached out to Dr. Corrie Roehm, FAAP, FACS, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center and clinical assistant professor at Dell Medical School, to learn more about hearing loss in children.
Why is Normal Hearing Important?
“A child needs normal hearing for the development of speech and language skills,” Dr. Roehm said. “If hearing loss isn’t diagnosed, a child may have speech and developmental delays that severely limit social and learning progress. Not being able to communicate and connect can make a child feel isolated. This can cause a child to feel very frustrated.”
How Do I Know if My Child Has a Hearing Problem?
“In Central Texas, hospitals and some birthing centers screen newborn babies for hearing problems,” Dr. Roehm said. “The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program encourages the first hearing screening as soon as possible—at least before a baby is one month old. If the baby fails the screening test, then another test should be done before the baby is three months old. If the baby has hearing loss, then early intervention services should begin before the baby is six months old. After newborn screening, the next hearing screen is usually done in elementary school. If hearing loss takes place after birth, a child may not be diagnosed for years.”
What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?
About half of children with hearing loss have a genetic cause. Hearing loss also can be caused by infections, such as congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. This virus is spread by contact with saliva and urine. Pregnant women often get CMV by changing diapers and caring for toddlers. Dr. Roehm says that “increasing public awareness and learning how to reduce the risk of contracting CMV during pregnancy can protect babies from this cause of hearing loss. Babies who fail their newborn hearing screening should be tested quickly for CMV.” Other causes of hearing loss are chronic middle ear infections, middle ear tumors, and medications that cause damage to the ear.
What Are Signs of Hearing Problems in Children?
Dr. Roehm advises parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about hearing testing if their child:
- Doesn’t react normally to loud noises
- Doesn’t respond when you call her name
- Doesn’t follow directions
- Says “huh?” frequently
- Turns up the TV or device volume to a high level
“ Hearing loss can be a subtle finding,” cautions Dr. Roehm. “Many families are surprised by the diagnosis of hearing loss. That is why hearing screening is so important.”
Are Children at Risk for Noise Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is permanent damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that catch sound. Loud sounds produce such strong vibrations that they can cause damage to these cells. The extent of damage depends upon how loud the sound is, how close you are to the source of the sound, and the length of time you are exposed to the sound.
People who have hearing damage caused by noise may not know it for years. A recent study found that almost 1 out of every 4 adults have NIHL. NIHL also has been found in teenagers. Dr. Roehm notes that “increasing exposure to headphones and earbud music/media has increased the risk of permanent hearing loss for today’s children.”
How Do I Protect My Child’s Hearing?
Here are some important steps you can take to protect your child’s hearing:
- Teach your child when hearing protectors are needed and why it’s important to wear them. Download a sound meter app for your iPhone at https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/have-you-heard/cdc-niosh-app to see which noises are in the danger zone.
- Insist your children use hearing protectors when exposed to loud noise, such as when attending loud entertainment events and music concerts of all types, riding an ATV or farm tractor or participating in shooting sports.
- Help your child choose hearing protectors that she won’t mind wearing. Some kids would rather wear earplugs that are hidden under their hair; others may choose colorful, comfortable earmuffs. There are models designed specifically for musicians and shooting sports.
- Choose headphones for your child that have volume limit controls. Use an app to monitor sound exposure and set noise limits.
Teach your kids about noise by going to https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/kids-preteens. Activities include choosing a sound to see how loud it registers on a decibel meter. You can also print out a bookmark of decibel levels at https://www.noisyplanet.nidcdnih.gov/publications/how-loud-too-loud-bookmark-english.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.