When your young son or daughter has a difficult time understanding you during a conversation or prefers to have the television volume higher than normal, you may want to consider having your child’s hearing checked.
Hearing loss in children can occur in a number of ways: genetics , side effects of certain medications, ear infections such as otitis media (inflammation in the ear associated with fluid buildup) and viruses associated with certain illnesses including meningitis, measles, mumps or even the flu.
“Noise exposure may cause hearing loss, but that is really not that common in children,” says Dr. Jude Liptak, an audiologist with Colonial Center for Hearing in Williamsburg, Va.
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly three out of 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. Meanwhile, one in eight people ages 12 and over has a hearing loss in both ears.
More and more adults are being diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss. Overuse of earphones and earbuds may be to blame, as well as noise exposure from music concerts and other loud sounds. Experts recommend avoiding sounds with more than 85 decibels for an extended period of time, as this can cause damage to the hair cells found inside the inner ear. If enough hair cells are broken or damaged, hearing loss may occur.
Common sounds with 85 decibels or higher include busy city traffic, a lawnmower, a hair dryer, a leaf blower, an MP3 player, a rock concert, a chainsaw, a jackhammer, an ambulance, a jet, a gunshot and fireworks.
So, what are the signs of potential hearing loss in children? “If you have to repeat a lot, if your child repeats words back to you different from what you said, or if they mistake one word for another,” there maybe an issue, Liptak says. Inattentiveness, not answering when called upon, wanting to have the TV or radio louder than usual, misunderstanding directions, listlessness, unexplained irritability, or pulling or scratching at the ears are also potential signs of troubles with hearing. Chronic ear infections may also cause hearing issues.
While your pediatrician may conduct regular screenings for hearing, your best bet if you suspect your child is struggling is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
“That will make a huge difference,” Liptak says. “For best results, see an audiologist for a specific evaluation. We can tell how the ear works.”