Healthy hearing is important at every stage of life, but of particular importance in early life.
That is because the most important time for a child to learn language is in the first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing. Research suggests that children with hearing loss who get help early develop better language skills than those who don’t.
Although serious hearing problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and managed as early as possible when treatment is generally more effective. Every state has an Early Intervention Part C program to provide coordination, supports, resources, and services to enhance the development of children with delays and disabilities through everyday learning opportunities. Some services are provided at no cost.
Your baby’s hearing will be screened before s/he leaves the hospital or birthing center. If you give birth at home, or if your baby’s hearing was not tested at the hospital or birthing center, ask your child’s pediatrician to refer you to an audiologist.
Two different types of hearing screening tests are used to screen for hearing loss in babies. Your baby can rest or sleep during both tests. The two tests can be used separately or together, depending on the hospital.
The Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test detects whether the ear responds to sound. A miniature earphone and microphone are placed in the ear, sounds are played and a response is measured. If a baby hears normally, an echo is reflected back into the ear canal and is measured by the microphone. When a baby has a hearing loss, no echo can be measured on the OAE test.
The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test looks at how the auditory nerve and brainstem respond to sound. During this test, your baby wears small earphones and has electrodes placed on his or her head. The electrodes adhere and come off like stickers, and should not cause discomfort.
Hearing loss can occur at any time of life. Some inherited forms of hearing loss don’t appear until a child is older. In addition, illness, ear infection, head injury, certain medications, and loud noise are all potential causes of hearing loss in children. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, talk to your pediatrician or family practitioner right away.
Although your child will be offered routine hearing tests as they grow up, it’s still important to look out for signs of any problems and seek advice if you have any concerns. In older children, signs of a possible hearing problem can include:
Depending on your child’s age, hearing loss, and communication needs, some of these devices and tools may help to maximize his or her communication skills.
Hearing aids. Worn in or behind the ear, hearing aids help make sounds louder. Hearing aids can be used for different degrees of hearing loss. A pediatric audiologist who is experienced in treating infants and children can help you choose the best hearing aid and make sure that it fits securely and is properly adjusted.
Cochlear implants. If your child won’t benefit from a hearing aid, your doctor may suggest a cochlear implant. This electronic device can provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf or hard-of-hearing. The device converts sounds into electrical signals and carries them past the non-working part of the inner ear to the brain. Cochlear implants can be surgically placed in children as young as one year old. Studies have also shown that eligible children who receive a cochlear implant before 18 months of age can develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing, and many succeed in mainstream classrooms.
Below is a list of national support organizations and other helpful websites.
For information on ages and stages of hearing development, hearing loss explained, and where to find services in your community.
A source of information for people who must make decisions about deaf children: providers, educators, legislators, and advocates.
A website developed and maintained by audiologists, Speech-Language Pathologists, teachers of the deaf, geneticists, and doctors at Boys Town National Research Hospital
CDC’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) site contains helpful information on program hearing loss surveillance, research, and health education.