According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, hearing loss affects 2 in every 100 children under the age of 18. Luckily, with modern medical technology, permanent hearing loss can be reduced and prevented. The key is early intervention. As a parent, it is important that you know what symptoms to watch for, understand what causes hearing loss in children, and have your child’s hearing tested once a year for the first three years of his or her life. This will help you confirm that your child’s auditory development is progressing normally.
So what causes hearing loss in children?
One of the most common causes of hearing loss in children is infection. Infection can appear during an illness like meningitis, mumps, measles, and whooping cough, or it can be the result of residual water in the middle ear. Over time, repeated ear infections cause skin to grow near the eardrum. This cyst or growth of abnormal skin is known as a cholesteatoma. According to the National Deaf Children’s Society, if left untreated, a cholesteatoma grows in size and damages the small bones found in the middle ear. These bones transmit the vibrations that allow us to hear, so if the bones are damaged or destroyed, permanent deafness and hearing loss will follow.
Glue ear is commonly found in children. Usually linked with ear infections, it can be caused by colds, allergies, and second-hand smoking. When fluid becomes trapped inside the middle ear, the cell lining in the middle ear produces fluid. This fluid thickens and fills the middle ear, making it difficult to hear. Most of the time, glue ear is temporary and won’t pose a serious threat to your child’s hearing. But if the condition continues, it can affect a child’s hearing and speech development.
Hearing loss in children can also be caused by congenital defects and underdevelopment of the ear. One common defect is microtia, the underdevelopment of the outer ear. This defect can vary in severity but often results in minor changes to the ear, like the ear can be smaller than expected. In severe cases, the ear canal simply doesn’t develop. Microtia occurs during pregnancy, and exact causes of the underdevelopment are unknown. The amount of resulting hearing loss or deafness depends on the severity of the microtia. There are several types of microtia including the following:
Lobular Type Microtia: With this type of microtia, the outer ear is small and underdeveloped. This is the most common type of microtia.
Conchal Type Microtia: When the child has a narrow ear canal or is missing an eardrum, conchal type microtia has occurred. With this form of microtia, the outer ear is usually underdeveloped and smaller than usual.
Small Conchal Type Microtia: With this type of microtia, the ear is smaller than usual but key features of the outer ear are present. The ear canal is usually narrow or missing.
When discussing what causes hearing loss in children, it’s important to talk about cleft palate. Many people don’t realize that cleft palate can affect a child’s hearing in addition to impairing his or her speech. It makes children more prone to ear infections, and the National Deaf Children’s Society also reports that children born with cleft palate are more likely to develop long-term hearing impairments. If your child has cleft palate, be sure to look out for ear infections and discharge coming from their ears. Should ear infections continue, consult your child’s doctor.
Of course these are not the only causes of hearing loss in young children. Other causes include ototoxic medications (used by the mother during pregnancy or taken by the child), birth complications, disorders of the brain or nervous system, perforation of the ear drum, excessive loud noise, certain diseases (like Ménière’s disease), and serious head injuries. Some genetic syndromes, such as Ushers, Down’s, and Waardenburg’s syndromes, can cause congenital hearing loss as well. Finally, children are more likely to develop hearing loss if the condition runs in their family.
Sometimes hearing loss is present at birth, and other times it is acquired during the first few years of life. Sometimes it is temporary and treatable, and other times it is permanent. If you’re worried your child’s hearing is impaired or notice drainage from their ears, consult your child’s doctor or an audiologist for assistance. Hearing loss can disrupt a child’s learning and development, and in many cases, long-term hearing loss or damage can be prevented.
Concerned about hearing loss? Don’t wait. If you live near Limon, Pueblo, or Colorado Springs, Colorado, contact Apex Audiology today. Dr. William F. Herholtz can conduct a simple hearing test, increase your understanding of your hearing loss, and offer solutions for treatment. To get started, please call us at 719-247-9000 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!
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