Could Your Child Have Hearing Loss?

Child with Headphones

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So many parents count their children’s fingers and toes at birth, but not all problems are immediately evident. Hearing loss affects about four out of 1,000 newborns, and three million kids under the age of 18 have some form of hearing loss. There are several different types of hearing loss, and it also varies in severity. A child might be born with the condition, or he might acquire it later on.

How Does Hearing Loss Affect Communication?

Hearing loss can have a profound impact on a child’s speech and language development and his ability to communicate. Children learn language by listening to parents and others speak. Receptive and expressive language development can be delayed by hearing loss. Later on in life, this affects the child’s academic performance. As the child begins to go outside the home for playgroups and school, he may be socially isolated due to his trouble with hearing. This can negatively impact the development of conversation skills.

Furthermore, hearing loss can also affect the child’s speech. They may be unable to hear their own voices, either completely or partially, and so they may speak with an odd pitch. Children with hearing loss may also omit certain sounds from their speech, like “sh,” because they cannot hear them properly.

Testing for Hearing Loss

Every newborn should be tested for hearing loss before leaving the hospital. Typically, newborns are screened shortly after birth. These screenings are not definitive, however. If the doctor thinks that the screening may indicate possible hearing loss, he will recommend that you take your baby for a follow-up evaluation by an otolaryngologist, also called an ears, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

Screening for Hearing Loss

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Risk Factors

Newborns with a low birth weight (less than 3.5 lbs.) have a higher risk of hearing loss. Other possible risk factors can include jaundice, or a yellowish appearance to the skin, and an unusual appearance around the head and ears. Newborns that received a blood transfusion, received an antibiotic medication, had meningitis, or were in the neonatal intensive care unit for longer than five days also have a higher prevalence of hearing loss.

Possible Signs of Hearing Loss

Here are some of the possible signs of hearing loss in a very young child. Please note that there is some overlap between the age groups.

Newborns

Some possible signs in newborns (roughly birth to 6 months) can include the failure to wake up when a loud noise occurs, failure to react in any way to loud noises, and failure to be soothed by voice. You may also notice that your little one does not turn his head in the direction of sound and does not babble.

Infants

You might notice that your infant (roughly three months to two years) does not display alertness to sounds and does not begin to imitate sounds and words. By 15 months, children typically begin to acquire single words; failure to do so may possibly indicate hearing loss. When your child does talk or babble, his speech might not sound typical for his age group. Children with hearing problems also typically watch TV or listen to music at an unusually high volume.

If your child displays any of these signs, take him to his pediatrician for a hearing screening, even if he was already screened at birth. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the more effective treatment will be. If he doesn’t have hearing loss, he may have another speech and language condition.

Parent's Guide to Speech & Communication Challenges
Hearing Loss