child with hearing loss

Hearing Loss in Children | Types of Hearing Loss, Treatment & Prognosis

Rinda GraybillResources

Newborn Hearing Development

The development of hearing begins in utero.  Babies can respond to sounds in the first trimester of development.   A newborn baby can already respond to various sounds.  By the time a baby is 3-4 months of age, he can turn his head toward the source of a sound.  By 6 months of age, an infant can localize soft-spoken speech.  As a baby continues to grow and develop, so do his hearing skills.

Who is at risk for hearing loss?

Some factors that can put a baby at risk for hearing loss include:  maternal diseases such as rubella or syphilis during pregnancy, anatomic malformations of the head and neck, maternal history of drug or alcohol abuse, and family history of childhood hearing impairment.  Premature infants are also more vulnerable to hearing impairment compared to full term infants.

Types of Hearing Loss and Ear Infections:

A child that is diagnosed with a hearing loss may have one of several types of hearing losses:  conductive, sensorineural or mixed hearing loss.  Conductive hearing loss is a hearing loss in the outer ear and/or middle ear.  Sensorineural hearing loss is a hearing loss from damage to the inner ear or nerve of hearing.   A mixed hearing loss can include both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.  Hearing losses can be characterized as mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe and profound.

An example of conductive hearing loss includes acute otitis media (ear infection) or recurrent otitis media with effusion (fluid in the middle ear).  Many infants, toddlers and young children have frequent ear infections.  Some young children can have an accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum even when they do not have an ear infection.  This happens because infants and small children have small, narrow ear canals.  Fluid in the ear has more difficulty draining from a child’s small, narrow ear canals.  There is an important relationship between fluid in the ear, hearing loss and speech and language development.  A child who has had recurrent ear infections is at a greater risk of speech and language delays.

Early Detection of Hearing Loss

It is important to detect hearing loss in infants as soon as possible because early intervention can help the infant develop speech and language like other hearing infants.  Depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss, individuals with hearing impairment can have difficulties in their communication abilities which could include articulation, language, voice, fluency and resonance.

Prognosis For Children with Hearing Loss

Prognosis for children with hearing loss depends on several factors:  the quality of services the child receives, how early in life professional help is given, parental involvement, and the presence of other disabling conditions, such as blindness.

Management of Hearing Loss in Children

Children who exhibit a permanent hearing loss require aural rehabilitation.   This can include amplification (hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive devices) and communication training.  Communication training can involve various types of intervention, such as speech reading, cued speech, oral language training, training in speech, rhythm and voice, and multiple types of verbal and nonverbal approaches to communication.  Many professionals are involved in managing a child’s hearing loss, such as an audiologist, an otologist, a speech language pathologist and a teacher of the hearing impaired.  Other professionals, as well as parents, will also play a role in helping a child with hearing loss reach his or her full potential.

by Rinda L. Graybill, M.S., CCC-SLP