Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss is not a condition that only affects older adults. Out of every 1,000 children born in the U.S., two to three are diagnosed with some form of hearing loss. Whether congenital or acquired, permanent or temporary, hearing loss can negatively impact a child’s development in the early stages of environmental and language learning. Gaining a better understanding of the following types of hearing loss most commonly diagnosed in children can help you be more prepared to prevent, detect and seek timely treatment for one of your child’s most valuable senses.

Congenital hearing loss

Congenital hearing loss occurs before or at the time of a child’s birth. In-utero infections can impact a child’s hearing development, as can genetics. A family history of permanent hearing loss can play a part, but isn’t a guarantee – the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that 90 percent of deaf children are born to parents with healthy hearing.  Risk factors that increase an infant’s chances of permanent hearing loss include the following:

  • Premature birth
  • Injury during birth
  • Birth defects
  • Post-birth infections and other serious health conditions

The law requires that all infants have their hearing screened at birth; if any of these conditions or risk factors are present, they will be scheduled for follow-up testing and more closely monitored. Late-onset or progressive hearing loss may not show up right away – one of the reasons hearing tests throughout the developmental years are extremely important.

Acquired hearing loss

Acquired hearing loss can happen any time after birth, and is not linked to genetics.  Some ways acquired hearing loss can develop include the following:

  • Viral or bacterial infections such as meningitis or measles
  • Recurring or long-lasting ear infections (fluid in the ear for more than three months)
  • A head injury or exposure to extremely loud noise

These conditions don’t necessarily lead to permanent damage, but they can pose a danger. Doing everything you can to maintain and promptly treat your child’s health as well as protect their physical safety can help them avoid hearing loss from these causes.

Common causes of temporary hearing loss

Some of the most common reasons children may temporarily lose their hearing include earwax buildup, foreign objects inserted in their ear canal, swimmer’s ear and otitis media (ear infection). Of these, ear infection is the most frequent reason for office calls besides routine checkups: roughly 85 percent of children are likely to develop at least one. Even though they’re common, prolonged ear infections can seriously damage the structures of the middle ear, and should never be left untreated.

If you notice your child exhibiting signs of hearing loss, or if they struggle to communicate or perform school tasks that are age appropriate, schedule an appointment with an audiologist. The audiologist will be able to weigh symptoms, perform child-specific hearing tests and diagnose hearing loss if present.