Hearing is crucial to our well-being. It keeps us safe by warning us of potential dangers, and it keeps us connected to the people that matter most. Therefore, early detection of hearing loss is essential in allowing children to develop appropriate speech and language for effective communication.
Our knowledge of hearing, how to evaluate it and how to manage the loss of it has continually expanded over the last 60 years. Since 1990, universal newborn hearing screening programs have been used in hospitals to test infants prior to discharge. The goal of these programs is to identify hearing impairment prior to three months of age and to intervene prior to six months of age. Studies show that hearing-impaired children who receive amplification prior to six months of age have a greater chance of developing normal speech and language than those who do not.
Current technology, such as otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) and auditory brainstem response testing (sometimes called ABR test or BAER test) allow us to identify hearing loss and begin appropriate intervention plans before three months of age. Locally, Avera has developed a comprehensive protocol involving both of these measures to ensure every effort is made to identify those children who are hearing impaired and begin the intervention process in a timely and effective manner.
Many things can cause hearing loss in a child.
Hearing loss at birth is called congenital hearing loss and is often caused by some combination of genetic factors; however, it also can be caused by acute infection during pregnancy, prematurity, injury at birth or several other health conditions.
Hearing loss that happens after birth is called acquired hearing loss, resulting from complications due to frequent ear infections, viral and bacterial infections (e.g., meningitis or measles), a head injury or exposure to very loud noises. This wide range of potential causes makes monitoring very important.
Children who pass their newborn hearing screening and show no indication of hearing loss through childhood should still be screened prior to kindergarten, every other year during elementary school ages, once in middle school and at least once during high school. Children with other known health or learning needs, speech and language delays or a family history of hearing loss may require more frequent hearing screenings.
Although hearing loss in children is relatively rare, affecting less than 2 percent of children, it is important that parents pay attention to how their children respond to sound and be on the lookout for signs their child is not hearing like they should. These warning signs include:
- Delays in speech and language compared to peers
- Difficulty with paying attention and behaving
- Difficulty with academic performance
- Sitting very close to the TV when the volume is loud enough for others
- Increasing volume on the TV or radio to unreasonably loud levels
- Difficulty hearing on the phone
- Becoming startled by sudden, loud noises
- Unable to accurately locate sound
If you or your family has concerns for your child’s hearing, please communicate those concerns with your pediatrician or contact your local audiologist.