Frequently we associate hearing loss with aging. But children can be born with hearing loss or lose hearing because of disease. Audiologists are trained in treating people of all ages with hearing loss, so they treat hearing loss in infants, toddlers and children as well as adults. The earlier hearing loss is detected, the less impact it can have on speech development and learning. Early detection and intervention is crucial for emotional and academic development.

Why children have hearing loss

Children have hearing loss for different reasons than adults. Here are the most common causes.

  • Genetics: Almost half of hearing loss in children is genetic. Genetic mutations run in families. Some of these mutations cause defects in cochlear function.
  • Gestational: Some hearing loss happens because the mother has an infection while the child is still developing in the womb. Not all infections cause hearing loss. Cytomegalovirus, measles, herpes simplex and toxemia can cause hearing loss. Maternal diabetes can cause hearing loss too.
  • Childhood Disease: Once a child is born, infection can still result in hearing loss. Otitis media (an infection of the inner ear) is common in young children and can cause hearing loss. Other childhood diseases such as chicken pox, meningitis, measles, mumps and influenza can also cause hearing loss. Immunization can prevent many of these infections and protect your child’s hearing.

Signs of hearing loss in babies

Babies are screened at birth in the hospital. That doesn’t mean that hearing loss can’t occur once you bring your baby home. Here are some signs of hearing loss in infants and babies.

  • Not being startled by loud noises
  • Not turning head toward the source of a sound by 6 months
  • Not speaking single words by 1 year
  • Not turning head when called by name by their first birthday
  • Turning head only when they see you and not when you speak

It may be easy to believe that your baby is just ignoring you, but it is possible they can’t hear you speak to them.

Signs of hearing loss in children

The Centers for Disease Control maintains a list of milestones that a child should reach at different ages. If your child isn’t reaching these milestones, talk to the pediatrician right away. Other signs of hearing loss in toddlers and older children are:

  • Delays in speech development
  • Consistently unclear speech
  • Saying “huh” or grunts in response to your speech
  • Does not follow directions
  • Listens to television or music very loud

If you see any of these signs, ask the pediatrician about a simple hearing screening. A screening is a pass-fail type of test that can determine if your child’s hearing should be tested.