Hearing loss affects thousands of families across the UK but knowing the signs in your own child can be difficult. While approximately 1 in 1000 children are born with permanent hearing loss, many will develop it over time.
A very common cause in younger children is something widely called "glue ear" which is a temporary hearing loss that can come and go.It is essentially fluid build-up behind the ear drum and frequently resolves itself after a few weeks or months and is often linked with recent coughs or cold in children who are much more prone to it than adults. Some children, particularly those with other health conditions such as a cleft palate or Down Syndrome are more likely to get it and in those cases it can be a long-standing problem.
There is a chance for children to get permanent hearing loss as they get older but that is rare. The main things that can cause this are infections such as measles, mumps, meningitis or sometimes even chicken pox so it’s important to react quickly when you see symptoms of any of these diseases.
Main Signs of Hearing Loss in your Child
While the signs of hearing loss will depend on the age of your child, the most common to look out for are:
What should you do?
If you notice a problem, the first thing you should do is seek medical advice from your GP, mention it to your school nurse, or if your child is younger, speak to your health visitor. If they are at all concerned, they will send your child for an assessment at an Audiology clinic and you should be seen within 6 weeks although this can be sooner if Audiology arrange a more urgent appointment.
Treatments for children
The solution to hearing loss is very much dependent on the type and degree and it is tiered by mild, moderate, severe or profound – and whether the hearing loss is conductive, sensorineural, or a mixed hearing loss. Whether the hearing loss is thought to be temporary or permanent will also be a factor.
When it comes to glue ear, and minor cases, the best thing to do is to monitor your child’s hearing as it will often clear up by itself or you may be given advice on "hearing tactics" which are strategies to help lessen the effects of hearing loss in everyday life.
However, if the hearing loss is causing significant problems to a children’s ability to listen, you can get a bone conduction aid such as an ADHEAR, or a conventional hearing aid. There are also surgical procedures such as grommets that are used to treat the condition. The hospital will discuss with you the course of treatment that is most suitable for your child.
Bone conduction implants or middle ear implants are also available for children who need them.
As your child gets older, a Speech Therapist and Teacher of the Deaf can become involved if required. These professionals can help them undertake a number of different activities that will help them develop their speech and listening.
If an implant is an option for your child, there are also peer support groups that you can talk to – they are often volunteers who have been through an implant process themselves or parents of children who are. HearPeers mentors are a great starting point.
Ben Meredith is an audiologist and Senior Clinical Specialist from hearing specialists MED-EL, a world leader in implantable and non-implantable hearing solutions, driven by a mission to overcome hearing loss as a barrier to communication.