Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can occur at any point along the auditory pathway and may not always be present from birth. Even if a newborn passes their hearing screening, it's still important to monitor their hearing as they grow. Temporary factors like ear infections or wax blockages can cause reversible hearing loss, while other factors such as illness, injury, or inherited conditions can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Congenital hearing loss refers to hearing loss present at birth and can have various causes, including genetics, improper ear formation, or pregnancy-related issues. Acquired hearing loss, on the other hand, occurs after birth and can result from factors such as infections, injuries, or illnesses.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are different types of hearing loss to consider:
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when something obstructs sound from reaching the inner ear, but it can often be treated with medical or surgical interventions.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage or improper formation of the cochlea or hearing nerve and may require hearing devices for management.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural loss.
Early detection and intervention are key in ensuring the best outcomes for children with hearing loss. By taking action early on, we can help them connect with the world around them and experience the joy of hearing loved ones' voices, engaging in activities, and fully participating in life. Addressing hearing loss at an early stage positively impacts a child's speech development, education, and overall well-being.
Remember, hearing loss is just a part of the journey, and with the right support and resources, children with hearing loss can thrive and reach their full potential.
There are also a range of strategies that can make communication easier, even when you don’t yet know if your child has a hearing loss.
- Get your child’s attention before talking to them or giving instructions.
- Get them to face you while you’re talking.
- Reduce unnecessary noise – for example, turn down the TV if you are going to have an important discussion.
- Conversations work best when you and your child are within a couple of metres of each other – shouting from another room is challenging at the best of times!
- Check that your child has got the right message. Don’t just ask if they heard you – ask them to repeat instructions, or to tell you what you’ve said in their own words.
Signs of hearing loss
Hearing loss in children can develop at any time, even if they passed their newborn hearing screening. It can be temporary, caused by factors like ear infections or wax blockage, or permanent due to illness, injury, or inherited conditions.
Signs of hearing loss in babies and children
Monitoring hearing development in children is important to support language and speech development. Watch for these milestones, and if your child doesn't exhibit them or responds differently to sounds, a hearing test is recommended:
- Birth to 8 weeks: Startled by sudden noises from three to six feet away.
- Three months: Quiets or smiles upon hearing their parent's voice.
- Six to 12 months: Turns head toward familiar voices and sounds, responsive to close, quiet noises.
- 12 to 18 months: Recognizes and responds immediately to their own name.
- 18 months to two years: Uses several singular words, understands simple instructions.
- 2 ½ to 3 ½ years: Speaks clearly using groups of words, follows simple commands without visual cues, repeats phrases.
Signs of hearing loss in older children and young adults
Detecting Hearing Loss in Older Children and Young Adults: For older children and young adults, hearing problems can sometimes be confused with behavioural issues. Consider a hearing test if you notice:
- Trouble focusing or paying attention
- Slow response when unable to see the person speaking
- Seeking cues from others in preschool or school settings
- Frequent ear infections or earaches
- Concerns about speech development
- Frequently asking to repeat what's been said
- Misunderstanding what is said to them
- Turning up the TV volume louder than comfortable for others
- Complaining of ringing or buzzing in the ear
Hearing loss can affect speech development and a child's ability to concentrate or pay attention in class. That's why a hearing test is often recommended before starting speech therapy or as part of investigating developmental or educational concerns.
Signs of temporary hearing loss
Temporary hearing loss is when your child experiences changes in their hearing due to causes such as blockage in the ear canal, a build-up of earwax, fluid in the middle ear (like during an ear infection), or certain medications. Temporary hearing loss can also happen after exposure to loud noise.
Ear Infections and Glue Ear
Ear infections are common in small children, with two types often seen: middle ear infections (otitis media) and outer ear infections (otitis externa). Most infections involve the middle ear, where fluid collects behind the ear drum. This fluid usually clears on its own, but frequent infections can cause fluid to remain, leading to a condition called glue ear. Glue ear can last for weeks or months, affecting a child's hearing and occasionally language development.
Causes of Ear Infections
Babies and young children are more susceptible to middle ear infections due to their smaller Eustachian tubes connecting the middle ear to the throat. When a child has a cold, germs from the throat can travel to the middle ear and cause an infection. Smaller tubes make infection development easier, and it's not uncommon for young children to have multiple ear infections in a year, sometimes monthly. Outer ear infections are usually caused by excess moisture or damage to the ear canal.
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections
Both middle and outer ear infections can cause ear pain and irritability in babies and children. Cold symptoms like a runny nose and sore throat may also be present.
Middle Ear Infections (Otitis Media):
- Fluid build-up behind the eardrum causes intense pain and bulging. In some cases, the eardrum may burst, resulting in thick yellow discharge and relief from pain. A burst eardrum typically heals without treatment.
- Children with middle ear infections often have a fever, which can be the only symptom.
Outer Ear Infections (Otitis Externa):
- Discharge from the ear or a feeling of fullness.
- Redness and swelling in the ear, possibly extending beyond the ear.
- Pain when touching or moving the ear.
- Fever may be present.
Glue ear is not an infection but often follows one or more middle ear infections. If your child isn't bothered and there are no significant issues, no treatment is usually necessary as it often resolves on its own, but here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Hearing difficulties, such as needing things repeated, speaking loudly, or raising the volume on the TV. This may delay language development in younger children.
- Some pressure or pain in the ear.
- Irritability or sleep problems.
- Balance issues.
If you suspect your child has an ear infection or glue ear, it's important to see a doctor. Visit your GP if you notice symptoms of a middle ear infection or if there is redness, swelling, or pain in the firm area behind the ear.
What you can do if you suspect your child has temporary hearing loss
To support your child's hearing health:
- Consult with a GP or health clinic if you have concerns.
- Schedule a hearing check for your child.
Tips for caring for your child's ears at home:
- Teach your child to blow their nose.
- Encourage regular handwashing.
- Keep smokers away from children.
- Provide a healthy diet.
- Engage in singing songs and rhymes together.
If your child has difficulty hearing:
- Inform family, friends, community, and teachers to speak clearly and loudly.
- Ensure your child can see your lips and face when you talk.
- Inform other family members about your child's ear issues.
- Minimise background noise.
- Ensure good lighting for better communication.
Will my child inherit my hearing loss?
The answer to this question depends upon what caused your own hearing loss. Genetic counselling can help to understand what may have caused a hearing loss. Talk to your family doctor, or your Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to find out about options for investigating the cause of your hearing loss.
What’s next after you discover your child has hearing loss
This can be a challenging or emotional time. Our team is here to help you by providing their own expertise and by putting you in touch with services and support channels that can help you and your child on their journey.
I think my child has hearing loss. What should I do?
If you've noticed anything different about your child's hearing, a Hearing Australia audiologist can check your child’s hearing and advise you on the next steps. If you’re concerned, the first thing to do is book a hearing check. It is also a good idea to visit your GP to check whether your child has a wax build-up or an ear infection.
The degree of hearing change and the cause of the problem your child experiences will determine what needs to happen next, whether they need specialist educational or speech and language intervention, hearing technology such as hearing aids or a cochlear implant, or medical/surgical intervention.
Our services for children
Children who have been diagnosed with a hearing loss, or are likely to need hearing aids, can receive ongoing services from Hearing Australia at no cost, subject to eligibility requirements under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.
Children who are unlikely to have permanent hearing loss, but need a hearing test for other reasons may be able to access state government funded services or can be tested for a fee by Hearing Australia.
We know it can be a challenging time if your child has been diagnosed with a permanent hearing loss. Our team is here to provide our expertise and support to help you on your child’s journey.
How can I get support?
Discovering a child's hearing loss can present various challenges for your family. It's normal for your child to experience emotions such as depression, fearfulness, or withdrawal due to the sudden change in their hearing. As a parent, you may go through a grieving process as you worry about what this means for your child's future. However, there are plenty of support channels to help you deal with these sudden changes.
What you need to know about hearing tests
It’s worth getting your child’s hearing checked if they are having trouble focusing, are slow to respond, there are concerns about their speech development or have frequent ear infections or earaches.
How we test hearing
In Australia, all children are given a hearing screening at birth. This screening helps identify any potential hearing issues early on. To learn more about newborn hearing screening in your state or territory, simply click here.
The ways in which we test a child's hearing depends on their age, development, and the reasons for concern. Generally, there are two types of hearing tests:
Physiological tests: These tests do not require the child's cooperation and measure the function of different parts of the auditory pathway. For example, the automatic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test used in newborn hearing screening is a physiological test.
Behavioural hearing tests: These tests rely upon the child responding to sound in some way. For instance, a baby might be trained to turn towards an illuminated puppet or animation when they hear a sound. An older child might respond by putting a peg into a pegboard or pushing a button upon hearing a sound.
To help you better understand behavioural hearing tests, Hearing Australia has collaborated with UsherKids Australia to create an educational video. You can watch the video here.
What to expect within a hearing test
Testing your baby's ear health and hearing is simple and easy to do:
1. A health worker, nurse or GP will ask some questions about your child’s health and ears.
2. They will ask some questions about how your child hears at home and how well they communicate.
3. They will look at your child’s ear to check for any problems.
4. Your child will have a hearing test. This may include playing games.
5. If your child has an ear disease or any trouble hearing, they will be provided with further treatment and support.
What you need to know about hearing aids
After your child has been diagnosed with a hearing loss, the process of arranging hearing aids can seem complicated. What kind of hearing aids are available for children? How do they work? How often do they need replacing? We’re here to give you the answers.
Hearing Aid Technology and Funding Options
Your Child's Hearing Aids
Here’s what to be aware of when it comes to hearing aids, from fitting to everyday wear.
Fitting Hearing Aids
- Growing Needs: Since your child is still growing, they may require multiple hearing aids throughout their life. We'll ensure their technology is always appropriate for their changing needs.
- Ear Impressions: After diagnosis, an audiologist will make a mould of your child's ear to ensure a perfect fit. As your child grows, new moulds will be necessary.
- Fitting Appointment: During the fitting, the hearing aids will be programmed and adjusted to your child's listening needs. You'll receive guidance on how to use and adjust the device.
Types of Hearing Aids
Device Recommendation: Your audiologist will recommend the best hearing aid option for your child's language and speech development. Behind-the-ear (BTE) styles are suitable for babies and young children, while in-the-ear (ITE) styles are more appropriate for older children and young adults.
Wearing and Caring for the Aids
- Daily Checks: Your audiologist will show you how to check the aids regularly. Teach your child to do these checks independently as they grow older.
- All-Day Use: Hearing aids should be worn all day while your child is awake to support their speech and language development.
- Introducing New Sounds: Audiologists can provide guidance on introducing your child to new sounds and helping them adjust to wearing the device.
- Activity Considerations: Hearing aids are unobtrusive and can be worn during normal childhood activities, excluding bathing, showering, and swimming.
Follow-Up and Future Needs:
- Follow-Up Appointments: After a few weeks, visit your audiologist for a follow-up to ensure your child is adjusting well. Provide feedback on their hearing experience for fine-tuning.
- Ongoing Assessments: Regular assessments and tests will help adjust the hearing aids based on your child's changing needs and new research findings.
- Additional Support: Your audiologist can discuss other helpful technologies as your child grows.
Our specially trained paediatric audiologists are here to support your child's hearing needs and ensure they can fully enjoy their childhood. Contact us today for more information on our services for children with hearing loss.
What you need to know when it comes to hearing aids for your child
Hearing aids come in many styles and there are many factors to consider when choosing something safe or suitable for your child.
Many of the general techniques for smoothing a child’s transition to using hearing aids still apply, but there are a few extra factors you need to be aware of in babies.
t’s very important to also be aware of the safety tips to consider when it comes to your children and their hearing aids.