Hearing Problems in Children


What are hearing problems in children?

There are many types of hearing problems in children. Many of these problems result in hearing loss. This loss may be only temporary but it can also be permanent. It’s important that parents and other caretakers recognize the signs of hearing loss. The sooner you recognize a hearing problem, the better it will be for your child.

Children learn how to talk by hearing and imitating the sounds of people around them. And children start to learn about language and speech before they learn to talk. So the sooner your child has access to sound, the better. If your baby has a hearing problem, using a hearing device early on and other communication options can help avoid speech delays and problems.

Symptoms of hearing problems in children

Signs of hearing loss in very young children may not be easy to notice. Hearing problems may not become obvious until children are 12 to 18 months of age. This is when they should begin saying their first words. Children who can’t hear well often respond to their environment by using their senses of sight and touch. This can hide their hearing problems.

What causes hearing problems in children?

There are many things that can cause hearing problems in children. Some children are born with hearing loss. This is called congenital hearing loss. Hearing loss that occurs later is call acquired hearing loss.

Congenital hearing loss

Sometimes doctors can identify what caused congenital hearing loss. Sometimes they can’t. This type of hearing loss can be genetic (it runs in families) or non-genetic.

There are a few ways parents can pass along hearing loss to their child (genetic loss).

  • Both parents carry the recessive gene for hearing loss and pass it along.
  • One parent carries the dominant gene for hearing loss and passes it along.
  • One parent passes along a genetic syndrome (Down Syndrome, Usher Syndrome, etc.).

Non-genetic causes are most often related to illness or trauma before or during birth. Common non-genetic causes of hearing loss in children include:

  • The mother had an infection while pregnant, such as cytomegalovirus, rubella (German measles), and herpes simplex virus.
  • Premature birth.
  • Maternal diabetes.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy.

Acquired hearing loss

Acquired hearing loss can happen at any time in your life. It is usually caused by an injury or illness. Here are just a few things that can cause acquired hearing loss:

  • Serious head trauma.
  • Frequent ear infections.
  • Medicines that harm the ear (damage the auditory system).
  • Perforated ear drum (a hole in the ear drum).
  • Infections and viruses, such as meningitis, encephalitis, chicken pox, and measles.
  • Fluid in the middle ear.
  • Exposure to loud noises (for a long time).

How are hearing problems in children diagnosed?

Children who are born with hearing problems can usually be diagnosed with a hearing screening. All babies should have a hearing screening within 1 month after being born. Many hospitals screen newborn babies for hearing problems. If your newborn baby hasn’t had a hearing screening, talk with your doctor.

Answer the following questions about your child to identify signs of a hearing problem. If you answer “no” to any question, ask your family doctor if your child should be checked for hearing problems.

Birth to 4 Months of Age

Yes No
Is your baby startled by a sudden loud sound, such as a cough, a shout, a dog bark, or a hand-clap? _____ _____
When sleeping in a quiet room, does your baby move or wake up at the sound of voices or nearby noises? _____ _____
When your baby is crying, does he or she seem to calm down, even for a few seconds, when music starts, when there is a sudden loud noise, or when you speak (while out of sight)? _____ _____
At 3 to 4 months of age, does your baby sometimes turn his or her head or move his or her eyes toward a sound? _____ _____
Does your baby seem to recognize his or her mother’s voice better than other voices? _____ _____

4 to 8 Months of Age

Yes No
Does your baby turn his or her head and eyes toward a sound when the sound is coming from outside your baby’s peripheral (side) vision? _____ _____
In a quiet setting, does your baby’s expression change or do your baby’s eyes widen at the sound of a voice or a loud noise? _____ _____
Does your baby enjoy ringing bells, squeezing noisemakers, or shaking a rattle? _____ _____
By 6 months of age, does your baby seem to talk or babble back to people who are speaking or making noises? _____ _____
By 6 months of age, does your baby’s babbling include 4 different sounds? _____ _____

8 to 12 Months of Age

Yes No
Does your baby turn directly and quickly toward a soft noisemaker, to the calling of his or her name, or to a “shush” that is outside his or her peripheral (side) vision? _____ _____
Does your baby’s voice go up and down in pitch when he or she is babbling? _____ _____
Does your baby make several different consonant sounds (such as m, b, p, g) when he or she is babbling? _____ _____
Does your baby seem to enjoy music and respond to it by listening, bouncing, or singing along? _____ _____
Does your baby understand the command “no”?

Can hearing problems in children be prevented or avoided?


Some types of hearing loss can’t be prevented or avoided. Most types of congenital hearing loss can’t be prevented. There are a few exceptions. Congenital hearing loss caused by a mother’s abuse of drugs or alcohol while pregnant can be avoided.

More types of acquired hearing loss are preventable. You can help your child avoid hearing loss by:

  • Seeing that ear infections are medically treated.
  • Making sure your child always wears a helmet when riding bikes and skateboards to prevent head trauma.
  • Keeping your child away from prolonged loud noises.
  • Noticing early signs of a hearing problem.

Hearing problems in children treatment


Hearing problems can be temporary or permanent. Ear infections or fluid or pressure changes in the middle ear can cause temporary hearing problems. These will go away with time or treatment. Most permanent hearing problems are present at birth. They may be hereditary (run in families) or may be caused by medical problems. In some cases, the cause of a hearing problem may be unknown.

If your child has permanent hearing loss, talk to your doctor about communication options. Several types of hearing devices are available for children. Your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a doctor who specializes in hearing problems). An audiologist can help you decide which hearing device is right for your child. Your audiologist may also talk with you about other options to help your child communicate. He or she may recommend lip-reading or sign language. Talk to him or her about whether your child may also benefit from listening therapy or speech therapy.

Living with hearing problems in children


Hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. There are many tools that can help your child hear. The type of hearing loss he or she has will determine which tools can work for him or her. If your child’s hearing loss is mild to moderate, a good hearing aid can help him or her hear. If his or her hearing loss is severe to profound, he or she may benefit from a cochlear implant.

The most important thing is that your child learns to communicate despite his or her hearing loss. This may mean that you and your child need to learn sign language. Your child may need to learn how to read lips. Be flexible and be patient. Know that there are many professionals who can help you reach communication goals for your child.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • My child’s hearing problem seemed to happen after he/she had an ear infection. Will it go away?
  • My young child doesn’t react when I clap or say his/her name. Could he/she have a hearing problem?
  • Many people in my family have hearing problems. How soon should I have my child tested?
  • If my child is deaf, how can I communicate with him/her?
  • I’ve heard about cochlear implants. Can you tell me about them?
  • Should my child have a hearing aid?
  • Will my child learn to talk?