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Hearing loss can affect people of all ages, not just the elderly. Hearing loss in childhood can be difficult to diagnose, and quite distressing for the child. The good news, however, is that many of the most common causes of hearing loss in children are treatable if the problem is caught early.
What Causes Hearing Loss in Childhood
Hearing loss in childhood can be caused by a number of different conditions, including:
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss is common in people of all ages, and is quite treatable. It is caused by a buildup of fluid in the ear during an infection, or a build-up of wax in the ear. This condition is usually treated with simple ear drops, and will clear up quickly. Sometimes, if the wax in the ear is heavily compacted, the ear my need syringed by a nurse to clear out the debris.
Serisoneural Hearing Loss
This condition causes sudden and severe hearing loss, and is often associated with colds and influenza. It is caused when the existing infection spreads to the ear, causing swelling which damages the nerve that transmits signals from the ear to the brain. Serisoneural hearing loss can be treated with steroids to bring down the swelling, however it is important that the condition is diagnosed early. If the nerves remain compressed for too long then the damage to them will become permanent.
Otitis media is the term used to describe inflammation of the middle ear. This can cause anything from mild hearing impairment to permanent hearing loss, and may sometimes (but not always) be accompanied with ear pain and fever. This condition is considered to be a form of conductive hearing loss, and the level of hearing loss experienced varies from chid to child.
Otitis Media is the most common form of hearing loss in children and infants. Three quarters of all children will experience an episode of this type of ear infection by the time they reach their third birthday. The good news is that it is treatable.
Hearing loss can also be caused by viral infections, head injuries, and exposure to excessive noise. Some children are born with hearing impairments that are either genetic, or that were caused by an infection the mother acquired while the child was in the womb. Difficulties during the birth may cause hearing impairment too. Often, this impairment is not identified until later in infancy.
Signs and Symptoms
Diagnosing hearing loss in a child that is very young can be difficult, but there are some common signs that you can look out for, including:
- Uncharacteristic inattentiveness
- Asking for the TV or radio to be turned up louder than normal
- Misunderstanding things you say to them, that they would normally be able to follow clearly
- Excessive listlessness
- Pulling or scratching at their ears
If you notice that your child is displaying these behaviours, take them to see a doctor as soon as possible. This is particularly important if they are feverish or in pain, however it is worth getting all suspected hearing loss examined, because many causes of hearing loss become far more difficult to treat if they go undiagnosed for more than a week or two.
Coping With Hearing Loss in Childhood
Depending on the age of the child, hearing loss can have a major impact on their development. It is important that the child gets the help that they need to develop as many skills as possible to lead a normal life. Treatments associated with hearing loss in children are often called ‘habitative’ instead of ‘rehabilitative’ because the child is developing a new skill, such as talking, rather than re-learning how to do it. The specialist will consider many factors when helping the child, including:
- Their age
- The age the hearing loss occurred
- The age the hearing loss was identified (sometimes it can go undiagnosed for a long period)
- The extent of the hearing impairment
- The type of impairment
- Whether hearing aids can be used, and if so how