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Lynn S. Alvord PhD

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                                   Hearing Disorders – Childhood

 

    







The following information is not meant as a comprehensive treatment of all hearing disorders, but covers some of the main concepts. 

     Most childhood hearing disorders fortunately consist of “conductive” hearing losses, meaning a problem in the conductive hearing system, consisting of the outermost areas of the ear (ear canal, eardrum, middle ear bones, middle ear disorders such as fluid or ear infections, etc.).  Such can often be successfully treated medically as in ear infections, rupture ear drum, swimmers ear, etc.  On the other hand, if a child has the other main type of loss, “sensorineural”, then the problem resides somewhere in the neural areas of hearing, usually the cochlea, which are often not easily solved medically.  There are notable exceptions, however, as in cochlear implants for the dear of near deaf, as well as other treatments for certain type of sensorineural hearing loss.  Early diagnosis and intervention are often key to preventing further hearing loss as well as allowing normal language development without delays, which have been shown to sometimes cause permanent language or learning deficits. 

         Ear infections causing hearing loss (usually temporary) are very common.  Termed “otitis media” this disorder may or may not cause any pain, but usually throughout the duration of the disorder, the child experiences some hearing loss.  Five of 6 children have had an ear infection by the time they are 3 years old (from NIH’s website, compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders).  The main problem with this disorder is the interruption of language development at the critical language age (toddlers). 

Misconceptions

     Following are important misconceptions by parents and sometimes even pediatricians. 

1 - I will be able to tell if my child has a hearing loss

     This misconception is dual, in that a deaf child will babble normally giving the impression that he/she is learning to talk and therefore must be able to hearing.  Also, a deaf child often is more aware visually, thereby seeming to hear things such as the mother walking into the child’s room, to looking to see an airplane fly over or truck pass.  In this case, the child might be responding to vibrations. 

2 - The child will grow out of his/her delayed speech or ear infections

     This misconception is sometimes true, but unfortunately, often is not true.  Abnormal hearing usually causes delayed speech development.  Ear infections, being the major cause of this, are a controversial subject.  Pediatricians often point to studies showing that sometimes over treating ear infections is counterproductive. Other studies show, however, that children have an ideal age range for learning speech.  Passing this age range may result in permanent language or learning disorders.  Such studies point to data that show even mild or unilateral losses can cause these potential problems.

3 – Most childhood hearing problems will be discovered at birth by the newborn screening program at the hospital. 

  While nearly all hospitals in the US have newborn screening programs, many serious hearing problems in children do not occur at birth, but some time afterwards. Parents of children who fail are sent letters recommending follow-up testing, but too often these are ignored.     

     The above problems behoove parents to be proactive about their child’s hearing as many cases of hearing loss go undetected for a long time.