We all think our children are perfect from the moment they’re born. When problems arise, it can be easy for us to overlook the signs and symptoms, and it can difficult to convince ourselves and others that there might actually be a problem.
Hearing problems, especially for younger children who can’t yet communicate, can be difficult to diagnose. What should you do if you suspect your child might have problems with their hearing?
Types of Hearing Loss
- Sudden hearing loss can be caused by a variety of things, and it should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
- Conductive hearing loss is caused by problems with the outer or middle ear. The ear isn’t able to conduct sound to the inner ear, usually due to a blockage or problem with the ear canal.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by nerve damage in the ear. This prevents the ear from being able to transmit sound to the brain properly, resulting in hearing loss.
- Mixed hearing loss, as its name suggests, is a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
The cause of hearing loss is often hard to determine. Anything from head trauma and exposure to loud noises, to allergies and ear infections can cause hearing loss.
Symptoms of Hearing Problems
The symptoms of hearing problems in children will vary depending on the age of the child and whether or not the child is able to communicate.
For children under age two, look for things like:
- Does the child startle at loud sounds?
- Do they respond to familiar voices?
- Do they respond to their name?
- Are they able to follow simple verbal commands?
- Are they able to start repeating simple words and phrases?
For older children, look for behaviors like:
- Turning the television up extremely high.
- No response to their name or when they are called.
- Experiencing academic problems or trouble speaking.
- Complaints about ear aches or head pain.
If you notice any of these symptoms, or anything else that makes you think that your child might have hearing loss, your next step is to schedule a visit with your child’s primary care provider.
First Step – Doctor’s Appointment
If you’re concerned about your child’s hearing, the first step you should take is to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s doctor will probably perform a basic hearing test. You’ll also want to be sure to:
- Document anything you’ve noticed that might indicate hearing loss. Videos are great, but a list of things you’ve noticed can be just as valuable.
- Listen to your doctor’s suggestions, but don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion if the answer you get doesn’t line up with what you think is best for your child. If you think something is wrong, trust your gut.
- Get a referral to an audiologist. Depending on the type of hearing loss, this is likely the first specialist you will encounter.
Your child’s primary care provider is likely not a specialist in audiology, so the most common outcome of any appointment is going to be a referral to a specialist.
Second Step – Specialists Appointments
The next step is going to involve appointments with one or more specialists to determine things like:
- The cause of the hearing loss
- The severity of the hearing loss
- The permanence of the hearing loss
- Possible treatment options
You can expect behavioral tests, objective testing and observation to determine the type of hearing loss and how best to treat it. Depending on what type of hearing loss is at play, you may receive referrals to other specialists such as an otologist, an otolaryngologist or other ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialists. You may also be asked to see a speech pathologist or therapist to assess how the hearing loss is affecting your child’s ability to speak.
Third Step – Treatment Options
Childhood hearing loss might seem like an insurmountable hurdle, but there are tools available to help for children of any age. Treatment options will vary depending on the type of hearing loss, but could include:
- Technological tools, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
- Special education, designed specifically for children with hearing loss.
- Closed captions — useful for older children, text messaging, text-to-speech programs, etc.
- Surgical options such as inserting tubes to drain fluid, clearing blockages for conductive hearing loss, etc.
As with any medical treatment or procedure for your child, make sure you trust your gut. If something feels wrong or doesn’t feel like it’s the best option for your child, then you’re probably right.
Fourth Step – Be There
We’ve spoken about childhood hearing loss being an insurmountable hurdle. In the back of your mind, you might even be blaming yourself for something that is totally out of your control. These are completely normal feelings, but you need to put them to the back of your mind. The most important thing you can do to help your child while they make their way through their hearing loss journey is to be there for them.
Be supportive. Let them know you’re there for them, and don’t let them think they are different or less than their peers because of their hearing loss. If learning American Sign Language is part of your plan, take the time to learn with them. Every little thing you do with them helps to reinforce that no matter what, you’re on their side, and you’re there for them.
Childhood hearing loss can be difficult to diagnose, but once you know what you’re up against, you can make a plan of attack to help your child make sense of a world they can’t hear. Be prepared for doctor’s appointments, tests and a variety of different treatment options, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. You are your child’s advocate, and for many years you’ll be their only voice. It’s up to you to make sure you have all the information to make the best decisions possible for your child and their hearing.