BY JAMIE LOBER
Hearing is a critical part of the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children. Even a mild hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to speak and understand language. Hearing is a gift that most take for granted until they or someone they love start to lose it. The good news is that hearing problems can be treated if caught early, ideally during the first months of life. So it’s important to get your child’s hearing tested early and regularly.
By some estimates, one in twenty children has hearing loss in one ear by the time they reach school-age. For others, hearing may fade subtly during adolescence. “It is more common than we think,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, pediatrician and spokesman for the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The ramifications of hearing loss are large. The cause must be determined. “It could be something wrong with the nerves, the bones inside the ear or any of the number of cells inside the ear. It could also be caused by infection, extreme jaundice, certain medications, a genetic problem or syndrome condition,” said Shu. Ear infections are another common cause but this type of hearing loss can be reversed. “Some kids need to get ear tubes because the infections can spread to the bone of the skull behind the ear,” said Shu. Usually using antibiotics or letting the child fight off the infection are helpful.
Every child should be tested by an audiologist who is certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association. Cathy Fletcher, Georgia Director of the Hearing Loss Association of America says, “Usually they put you in a sound-proof booth and you hit a button when you hear a series of beeps. They also recite a list of words and have you repeat them back so they can tell whether or not your hearing loss is noise-only or clarity because sometimes you will hear a sound at a certain level but you will not be able to understand speech at the same time.”
The American Speech and Hearing Association say that school-aged children should be screened at the following intervals:
• First entry into school
• Annually from kindergarten through 3rd grade
• In 11th grade
• Upon entrance into special education, grade repetition, or entering a new school without previously passing a hearing screening
If hearing loss runs in your family, you should be extra vigilant. Parents usually have a good sense as to whether their child is struggling. “Something may happen around them and they will not pay attention to it; or there will be a conversation, and they will answer in a wrong way,” said Lisa Hamlin, public relations director at the Hearing Loss Association of America. Inattention is not the only possibility. “There are auditory processing problems where children cannot process and listen what they hear easily and their hearing may be fine,” said Hamlin.
Take reasonable precautions to protect your child from hearing loss:
Wear earplugs or noise-reducing headphones if you are around a factory
Do not blast your Ipod and keep your car radio down
Avoid loud noises
Make sure your child does not put toys or q-tips in his ears because they cause damage (Remember the old adage, “Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear” is a good rule to teach your children).
There are treatments depending on the type of hearing loss. “A hearing aid makes sense for sensorineural hearing loss. For bone conduction loss, you might use a hearing aid or if it is medical, you might have an osteo-integrated hearing device implanted to help you hear. For the vast majority of people, treatment would be a hearing aid used with assisted listening devices and attention to rehabilitation,” said Hamlin. The hearing devices can be extremely helpful with regard to learning and performance in school. Hearing is not like vision where you can get a pair of glasses and your problem is solved.
Understand the facts. “Ninety-five percent of people with hearing loss do not use sign language. That is a big misconception,” said Fletcher. Accommodations can be made such as captioning in movie theaters or churches. “For the cell phone, you may want to have a telecoil on the hearing aid,” said Hamlin. In school, children may be eligible to have a communication-assisted real time translation which is like a court reporter who listens to every single word that is said and types it out so the child can depend on reading.
Be observant of your child. It is a misconception that hearing loss is an old person’s problem. It can happen to anyone. Hearing is an incredible sense. “Children develop their hearing by the time they are twenty-eight weeks gestation in the womb, so that is why reading and playing music to babies even before they are born can be helpful. And that is why when babies come out, they already recognize parents voices, whereas vision takes longer to develop,” said Shu. Be sure to share this article with those you care about. “It is a public health issue,” said Fletcher.