Approximately two babies out of every 1,000 are born with permanent hearing loss in one or both ears. Hearing loss can significantly affect a child’s development. However, the earlier a problem is diagnosed, and treatment is started, the better the chances are of a child being able to develop language, speech, and communication skills.
To help educate parents about hearing loss in children, here, Dr Bernie Borgstein, Consultant Paediatric Audiovestibular Physician at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, shares her expert advice on the causes, symptoms, and treatments:
What Is Paediatric Hearing Loss?
Dr Borgstein says: “There are two main types of hearing loss experienced by children – conductive and sensorineural.”
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are blocked from passing into the inner ear, through the outer and middle ear. You can easily mimic the effect of conductive hearing loss by wearing ear plugs. Conductive hearing loss is usually only temporary, and straightforward to treat in children.
The other main type of hearing loss experienced by children is called sensorineural hearing loss. It is caused by dysfunction of the cochlea (the inner ear) or auditory pathways to the brain, and is often present from birth. Sensorineural hearing loss can also develop as a result of constant exposure to loud music, noise, or exposure to ototoxic medication such as antibiotics that can damage hearing These may be prescribed to babies to treat serious infections. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and cannot be cured with medicine or surgery. In most cases hearing aids or cochlear implants are recommended to help the condition.”
What is Glue Ear?
Dr Borgstein says: “By the age of 10, more than 80 per cent of children will have had at least one episode of glue ear. Glue ear is a very common condition among children where the middle ear fills with glue-like fluid instead of air. This causes dulled hearing, and is a common cause of conductive hearing loss.
Some children develop glue ear after a cough, cold, or ear infection when the Eustachian tube which links the middle ear to the back of the nose does not work normally. This tube is normally closed; however from time to time (usually when we swallow, chew or yawn) it opens to allow the middle ear to equalise its pressure with the atmosphere. When the Eustachian tube does not work as it should, the resulting negative pressure in the middle ear causes fluid to be drawn out of the cells and this becomes thick and gluey over a period of time.
In most cases glue ear clears without any treatment. An operation to clear the fluid and to insert ventilation tubes (grommets) may be advised if glue ear persists.”
What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?
Dr Borgstein says: “Hearing loss can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (present after birth). Approximately 50 per cent of all congenital hearing loss is due to genetic factors. Causes that are not hereditary in nature include infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes or syphilis. After birth, trauma to the head or childhood infections, such as meningitis, measles or chicken pox, can also cause permanent hearing loss. Some babies are born with normal hearing and develop hearing loss over time – for example some genetic sensorineural hearing losses and cytomegalovirus infection during pregnancy.
How Can You Identify If Your Child Has a Hearing Problem?
Dr Borgstein says: “One way to determine if your child’s hearing is developing correctly is to monitor important speech and hearing milestones. From birth to four months, your infant should:
- Startle at loud sounds
- Wake up or stir at loud noises
- Notice toys that make sounds
- Respond to your voice by smiling or cooing
From four to nine months, your infant should:
- Smile when spoken to
- Turn its head toward familiar sounds
- Make babbling sounds
From nine to fifteen months, your infant should:
- Repeat simple sounds
- Understand basic requests
- Respond to name
Children who are older than 15 months can also acquire hearing loss that is either permanent or temporary. Things to look for if you think your toddler or preschool-age child might have hearing loss are:
- Complaints of ear pain, earaches or noises in ears
- Does not reply when you call his/her name
- Has speech or language delay or problems articulating things
- Turns up the television or stereo high or sits very close to hear.
How Can Hearing Loss in Children Be Treated?
Dr Borgstein says: “Depending on the severity and cause of hearing loss in your child, hearing aids, cochlear implants and a combination of speech therapy and assistive listening devices may be recommended forms of treatment.
- Hearing aids – Children can begin using hearing aids from birth. There are many advanced models, including high-powered aids for children with profound hearing loss, that offer high-quality hearing assistance. Many solutions for children include special coverings and other accessories to ensure that young children don’t remove or misplace their hearing aids.
- Cochlear implants – Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that directly stimulate the auditory nerve in the inner ear with electrical stimulation. Cochlear implants work for infants and children who cannot benefit from hearing aids.
- Speech therapy – Speech therapy aims to help your child improve their communication skills, helping with hearing loss as your child is exposed to auditory and visual messages.
- Assistive listening devices – Assistive listening devices are amplifiers that work by bringing sound directly to the ear. They separate sounds, particularly speech, that a person wants to hear from background noise. This can help children with their ‘speech to noise ratio’, so that speech becomes clearer.
For more information contact HCAUK@pha-media.com / 020 7025 1363
About HCA Healthcare UK
- HCA Healthcare UK is the country’s largest provider of privately funded care, with over 800,000 patients every year. From complex and urgent care, to primary care, outpatient and day-case treatment, HCA UK provide care across our network of facilities in London and Manchester.
- HCA Healthcare UK includes London Bridge Hospital, The Portland Hospital, The Harley Street Clinic, The Lister Hospital, The Princess Grace Hospital, The Wellington Hospital, Roodlane Medical Ltd, and Blossoms Healthcare. HCA UK also work with leading NHS Trusts to provide care at Private Care at The Christie and HCA UK at University College Hospital and Private Care at Guy’s.