Pediatric hearing loss can be scary – for parents and children – but knowing the best course of action in the event of a failed hearing test can help. Many hearing problems can be managed or overcome, especially if they’re caught early. Getting a hearing test performed is the best first step to helping your child either recover from, or learn to live with, their hearing loss. Once the hearing test is performed, the faster your child gets help, the better.
When Should Your Child Get a Hearing Test?
If your child is born in a hospital, their first hearing test will occur before they are discharged. Every state has a detection program that identifies babies with permanent hearing loss and matches those babies with services before they are six months old. If your baby does not get a hearing test when they are first born, have your baby tested for hearing loss before they are three months old.
Even if your child passes their hearing test when they are born, they can still lose their hearing later. Many children suffer hearing loss in the first years of their life. Hearing loss can occur because of infection and injury. Just because your child has passed a hearing test once doesn’t mean they’ll always be able to pass a hearing test.
Signs Your Child Has Hearing Loss
Knowing the signs that your child has hearing loss can help you decide when it’s time for them to get a hearing test. Some parents mistake hearing loss for a lack of attention. If your child displays any of the problems below, ask your child’s physician.
Signs of hearing loss in babies:
- Reacts when they see you, but not when they call your name.
- Seems to hear some sounds but not others.
- Does not react to loud noises.
- Does not say basic words like “dada” and “mama” by one year.
Signs of hearing loss in toddlers and older children:
- Does not follow directions.
- Delayed speech, unclear speech.
- Prefers television volume to be very loud.
What Happens During a Hearing Test?
The type of hearing test administered to your child will depend on their age and capability. Babies, for example, cannot tell the audiologist whether they hear a noise. However, babies do respond to sounds of a certain volume and tone, if they can hear those sounds. Even eye movements and a turn of the head can be an indication that a baby hears a noise. Tests that measure hearing by gauging observable reactions to sound are known as behavioral testing. Older children may be asked to say a word or raise their hand when they hear a sound.
Behavioral hearing testing is not appropriate for all children at all stages of development. For children who are not able to handle behavioral testing, an auditory brainstem response evaluation can reveal hearing problems. During this type of test, earphones are placed in the ear canals and sensors are placed on the child’s forehead. The earphones play noises, and sensors detect a reaction at many places along the auditory pathway in the brain. This test can determine if there is damage to the auditory pathway and at which point.
There are other types of tests as well. Some tests monitor the brain’s reaction to sound, other tests analyze the function and mechanics of the ear itself. Your child’s audiologist will decide which tests are most appropriate for your child based on their age, behavior and any conditions they have.
What Does It Mean If Your Child Failed a Hearing Test?
If your child fails a hearing test, it’s important to remain calm. Sometimes babies fail the hearing test because of blockages or fluid in the ear. These problems can usually be easily remedied. It’s important to retest your child within about 3 months. This will tell you whether your child has real hearing loss or if your child had a temporary problem which has gone away. If your child fails a hearing test again, then it’s time to get help.
Know the Different Types of Hearing Loss
Some types of hearing loss can be treated or even cured, while other types cannot. Knowing the difference between the types of hearing loss can help you decide which steps to take next if your child is diagnosed with a condition.
- Sensorineural hearing loss – This occurs when the inner ear is damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss can also occur when there is a problem with the auditory cortex portion of the brain. This type of hearing loss is often present at birth and is usually permanent.
- Conductive hearing loss – This hearing loss is caused by a blockage that prevents sound from transmitting from the inner ear to the outer ear. Conductive hearing loss can occur because of ear infections. Often this type of hearing loss is temporary and can be treated with surgery or medications. It’s important to identify the problem early to get help as soon as possible.
- Auditory processing disorder – This is a condition that occurs when the brain and ears do not coordinate fully. Often, people with these conditions have a hard time hearing in noisy conditions.
Hearing loss is measured by degrees: mild, moderate, severe or profound. Profound hearing loss is a total inability to hear any sounds, while mild hearing loss means that only certain sounds cannot be heard. Your child’s audiologist can tell you the severity of your child’s condition.
Seek Treatment Or Interventions If They’re Needed
Because there are so many different kinds of hearing loss, and so many causes for hearing loss, the appropriate treatments and interventions for your child will depend on the circumstances. Typical treatments for hearing loss include:
- Surgery: Sometimes surgery can be used to repair damage to the inner ear. Surgery can also be used to place tubes in the ear to help children avoid ear infections that cause damage and hearing loss.
- Cochlear implant – A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that stimulates the hearing nerve. Cochlear implants give children with profound hearing loss the ability to register sound and understand speech.
- FM System: The use of an FM system programmed by an audiologist can help children with auditory processing disorders understand speech in noise by increasing the volume of speech over the sound of background noise.
- Hearing aid: Hearing aids are the most common form of treatment or intervention for hearing loss. Your child’s audiologist can prescribe the correct type of hearing aid for your child.
Your Child Failed a Hearing Test? See the Audiologist Soon
Hearing loss can happen for many reasons in the early years. If your child failed a hearing test because of hearing loss, see the audiologist as soon as possible to get help. Working with a specialist could restore your child’s hearing loss. If your child has permanent hearing loss, then it’s critically important to get help in the early years. As children age, they lose some ability to adapt to hearing problems. Contact your child’s audiologist as soon as possible. Work with your child’s specialist to find hearing aids or connect with a speech-language pathologist.