Although hearing loss is on the rise among children and adolescents, it often goes unrecognized. Hearing loss is likely to go unnoticed because the symptoms mimic normal childhood behaviors—like trouble paying attention or not responding when called upon.
Children with hearing loss have more difficulty in schools, poorer self-esteem, and tend to prefer isolation over socializing. Becoming familiar with the causes of hearing loss in children is the best way to recognize and help prevent it. Below are the three types of hearing loss and their common causes.
Conductive hearing loss results from a problem in the external, middle ear, eardrum, or ossicles.
According to Dr. Karen Lemme, Au.D, “Common causes of conductive hearing loss: impacted wax in the external ear canal, perforated eardrum, middle ear infection (common in young children) and otosclerosis.”
Ear infection or otitis media can range in severity from mild to extreme hearing loss. The condition is due to the inflammation of the middle ear which is commonly associated with a buildup of fluid that is sometimes infected.
Ear wax is normal in ears and in most cases does not need to be cleaned. Impacted ear wax should be removed by a hearing professional through irrigation, special instruments, or careful suction. This delicate process should never involve a cotton swab or ear candles—both of which can be dangerous.
Otosclerosis is an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear that sometimes occurs after repeated exposure to cold water. It can be alleviated with surgery. If your child is involved with a water sport it is a good idea to have them use a custom made earplug.
A perforated eardrum is often the result of inserting something into the ear, a sporting injury, explosive noise, or head injury. It can be helped by surgical intervention, medication, and specialized care instructions from an audiologist or hearing health professional.
Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear.
In children the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss is exposure to loud noise. It results from the destruction of the delicate hair cells within the inner ear. Dangerous decibels, noises loud enough to harm hearing, can be avoided. Protect hearing by using headphones that fit over the ears, not inside, and if your child plays a musical instrument invest in custom fitted hearing earplugs that will allow them to hear while protecting their ears from damage. Also, keep your child away from overly loud toys. Toys are not regulated for sound, and some sounds can be delivered at dangerous levels.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
Mixed hearing loss is the presence of sensorineural and conductive types of hearing loss. All of which can be present at birth or develop later. If a child is born with any of these conditions, it is called congenital. Hearing loss is the most common anomaly at birth. In the past, children born with hearing loss were often not diagnosed before two years of age. Recently, hospitals have begun to implement hearing screening programs for all newborns. It has been shown correcting hearing loss early, within the first six months, helps ward off permanent impairments of speech, language, and cognition.
Ototoxicity also referred to as ear poisoning causes damage to the inner, outer, or middle ear. It is the result of taking certain medications or from exposure to dangerous chemicals--like those found in chemotherapy. Other common medications can cause ototoxicity, along with toxins in the air. According to Science Daily, “Exposure to second hand smoke is associated with increased risk of hearing loss among adolescents.”
Tinnitus--a buzzing in the ears, imbalance, and an inability to tolerate head movement are some initial signs that a child may be developing hearing loss due to their medications or exposure to toxic substances. Check with your pediatrician before starting any medications for your child, and make sure to follow the dosing directions on all over the counter medicines.
Exposure to loud noise, ear wax, ear infections, and genetics all play a part in your child’s hearing.
In order to help your child keep their hearing fitness stay vigilant and don’t be afraid to ask questions about side-effects for treatments and medications. If your hospital doesn’t routinely check newborns for hearing loss, most do, make sure to ask to have him or her tested before you leave. If you have older children, who play sports and listen to music, make sure to get them a protective listening device. Always have your child wear a helmet, and take your child to see an audiologist annually. Most of the time hearing loss is either preventable or correctable. Hearing health requires vigilance. Spread the word to family and friends. Help create awareness and inspire prevention! You could change a child’s life.
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JAMA and Archives Journals. "Exposure to secondhand smoke associated with hearing loss in adolescents." ScienceDaily, 19 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110718164032.htm
Bainbridge, K., Hoffman, H., & Cowie, C. (2008). Diabetes and hearing impairment in the United States: Audiometric evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 to 2004. Annals of Internal Medicine, 149, 1–10. Taken from http://www.annals.org/content/149/1/54.full.pdf+html?sid=89eb4779-73fb-4... on October 10, 201