Hearing Loss: early intervention leads to better outcomes

Hearing loss or hearing impairment refers to a partial or total inability to hear.  There are different degrees of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound.  Hearing loss may occur in one or both ears. Hearing loss in children can either be congenital (the hearing loss was present at birth) or acquired (the hearing loss occurred after birth usually due to adisease or injury).  There are 2 types of hearing loss – conductive and sensorineural.

Conductive hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss in children and is due to a problem in the middle ear such as fluid, which prevents sound from entering the inner ear (cochlea).   Conductive hearing losses are usually due to ear infections and are usually only temporary.
Sensorineural hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea (inner ear) and is usually permanent.  The damage may be caused by disease such as meningitis, medication or noise exposure.

In Australia, it is estimated between 1 and 2 babies per 1000 live births will be born with a permanent hearing loss (Australian Hearing, 2005).  The prevalence increases during childhood, and the figure for Australian 9 to 16 year olds with all degrees of hearing loss has been reported as 3.17 per 1000. 
Some congenital hearing losses are due to genetic factors such as syndromes like Waardenburg Syndrome.   Other genetic causes may be due to a mutation on the auto recessive gene.  Non-genetic causes may include maternal infections during pregnancy, prematurity and low birth weight or severe jaundice at birth.
Acquired hearing loss can be due to medications given to treat infections, childhood diseases such as meningitis, recurrent ear infections, noise exposure or injury such as a skull fracture. 

Hearing loss in children, whether it is conductive or sensorineural can have an impact on their speech and language development and education.  Therefore early identification of hearing loss will often lead to better outcomes for the child.

Signs of hearing problems include:
• Don’t respond when called
• Says ‘huh’ or ‘what’
• Talks loudly
• TV volume is loud
• Delayed speech and language development
• Incorrect pronunciation of words
• Inattention or daydreams
• Complains of ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
• Poor grades at school

If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, have them tested.  It’s a painless procedure and if a hearing loss is detected, early intervention results in a better outcome for speech and language development and learning.

There are some children who behave as though they have a hearing loss, but have normal hearing.  These children may have an Auditory Processing Disorder. 
Auditory processing refers to how the brain makes sense of what the ear hears.  Deficits in Auditory processing result in a breakdown of information travelling from the ears to the brain and are often associated with listening, comprehension, language and learning difficulties.

Children with Auditory Processing difficulties typically:
• Behave as though they have a hearing loss especially in background noise
• Perform more poorly in classes that are highly dependent on verbal language skills
• Easily distracted
• Difficulty following multi-step instructions
• Refuse to participate in classroom discussions
• Say ‘huh’ or ‘what’
• Difficulty spelling
• Poor reading skills
Treatment for Hearing Problems in Children
• Antibiotics for ear infections
• Hearing Aids or cochlear implant
• FM system
• Speech therapy
• Sign Language

If your child is diagnosed with a hearing loss, early intervention and modern technology can ensure your child is healthy, happy and able to reach their full potential.

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