March 3 is World Hearing Day, so we’re sharing valuable tips to raise awareness of childhood hearing loss, including what to look out for at which age to help you identify any issues – and seek treatment – as early as possible.
Of course, not all hearing loss is created equal, with some children experiencing partial hearing loss, while others may suffer a temporary or total loss of hearing. The degree of hearing loss is typically described as mild, moderate, severe, or profound.
What are the signs of hearing loss?
In an infant or young toddler, possible signs of hearing loss may include: not reacting to loud sounds; not turning to detect where sound comes from; not making their own sounds; not reacting to voices or recognising/settling with a primary caregiver’s voice; malformed ears from birth; not noticing toys that make sounds.
In older toddlers and pre-school aged children, possible signs of hearing loss may include: not following simple commands; not listening to simple stories or rhymes; only understanding when looking directly at you; not being able to identify where sounds come from; talking too loudly or falling behind with speech or communication; showing signs of inattentiveness, behavioural problems or trouble socialising with peers.
Of course, there is a huge variation in ages and stages for children reaching milestones when it comes to communication, however if you have any concerns, speak to your child’s healthcare professional immediately.
What are the signs your baby or young child CAN hear?
Signs of normal hearing in young babies include startling or widening their eyes at sudden nearby noises or being woken from sleep by loud noises close by. Older babies will look towards the direction of a sound, turn their head when they hear voices or sounds they know and start to babble.
Between the ages of 12 months and two years, children with sound hearing usually start to imitate basic words and sounds, start to say simple words, can understand basic commands, and know the names of their favourite toys, animals, or family pets.
What causes hearing loss?
In children, temporary hearing loss can be caused by middle ear infections, a build up of wax in the ear canal, excess mucus in the eustachian tubes (such as during a cold), or a foreign object stuck in the ear canal – you know how children can be with small objects!
Causes of permanent hearing loss include hereditary conditions and genetic disorders, injuries (concussion, ear injury or fractured skull), diseases such as mumps or meningitis, exposure to excessive noise such as firecrackers, or exposure to rubella in utero (before birth).
How is hearing loss diagnosed?
In Australia, babies undergo a hearing test within a few weeks of birth, with most newborns tested before leaving hospital to help identify infants who might need further testing, since the earlier any hearing loss is detected, the better the outcome for future learning and language. An audiologist can run tests with a doctor’s referral if you suspect hearing loss in your child.
How is hearing loss treated?
This depends on the cause of the hearing loss, and its severity, with treatments ranging from antibiotics or grommets for recurrent ear infections to surgery, hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech therapy and more.
Where to get help
If you’re worried about your child’s hearing, your family doctor is the first point of call, and you may be referred to an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist.