Much of the hearing loss conversation these days focuses on hearing impairment in adults, but what about children? It’s important to remember that little ones can also have hearing problems.
While statistics vary based on the source, according to the CDC’s Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), almost 15% of children age 6-19 have low- or high-frequency hearing loss. Many times this hearing loss goes undetected by standard hearing tests provided in schools or during physicals. When untreated, hearing loss in children can delay speech and language development often leading to academic, social and emotional issues.
Signs of Hearing Loss in Kids
As adults, we can better gauge if our hearing isn’t as clear as it once was and schedule a hearing evaluation to get it tested. Kids may not know or be able to communicate hearing problems clearly, especially babies. It’s up to the adults in their lives to be observant and read the signs. There are several things to look for that may indicate a hearing loss in kids:
• Delayed developmental milestones
• Does not startle at loud noises
• Does not turn to the source of a sound after six months of age
• Seems to hear some sounds but not others
• Delayed or unclear speech
• Often says “What?” or “Huh?”
• Turns the TV volume up too high
• Difficulty in school
If you believe your child is showing signs of hearing loss, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor or hearing health care provider to schedule a pediatric hearing test.
What to Expect at Your Child’s Hearing Test
Early detection is crucial for kids with hearing loss to help them stay on track with speech and language development, and testing can be a relatively easy process when you and your child know what to expect.
Hearing tests are designed to determine the softest tones children can hear in various pitches. Depending on your child’s age, development and comfort with the testing process, these evaluations can be done in one of several ways:
• For older children (ages 5 and up), headphones are generally used to complete the test in a sound proof booth. Your child will raise their hand when they hear the various tones. This process allows the audiologist or hearing health care provider to determine, not only general hearing loss but also if that loss is located in just one ear. You can help your child prepare for this hearing test by practicing with headphones at home before your appointment. Children that are uncomfortable with headphones can complete the test without them, but results may be less ear-specific.
• Younger children (ages 2 ½-5) will often be tested through play audiometry. Similar to standard testing, play audiometry is conducted in a soundproof booth. During the test, kids are able to indicate they’ve heard a tone through a fun repetitive task like dropping a block in a bucket or placing a peg in a pegboard instead of simply raising their hand.
• The youngest children (under 2 ½) are tested using visual reinforcement audiometry. Once again conducted in the sound proof booth, these babies and toddlers are trained to look right or left towards a sound coming from a speaker. They are then rewarded with a light up toy near that speaker.
While these are the most common types of hearing tests for kids, in some cases your provider may recommend more in depth additional testing.
After Your Child’s Hearing Evaluation
Once the provider has the results of your child’s test, they will go over next steps to treat or manage potential hearing loss. Working closely with your hearing health care provider can ensure your child’s speech, language, social and emotional development stays on track for a happy and healthy future.