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Causes of Hearing Loss in Children

Parental jokes about selective hearing aside, discovering that your child can’t hear is no laughing matter. Some of the reasons children experience hearing loss can be corrected with medication or surgery while others result in permanent hearing damage.

Ear health professionals classify hearing loss into two categories: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss is often treatable with medicine or surgery while sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent.

Conductive hearing loss, caused when sound travel is obstructed in the inner and middle ear, is considered the most frequent reason for hearing loss in children. Acquired conductive hearing loss occurs after birth as a result of an abnormality or disease. The common cold or ear infection, which often produces fluid in the ear, is a good example of this condition. Earwax is another well-known culprit. If you suspect your child’s hearing is affected as a result of one of these scenarios, consult your pediatrician immediately. Both are typically temporary and can be corrected with medication when identified and treated early.

Congenital conductive hearing loss is caused by an anatomical abnormality of the outer and/or inner ear. Depending upon the nature of the abnormality, your pediatrician may recommend waiting until your child is at least three years of age before attempting to surgically correct the problem.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when hair cells in the cochlea or the hearing nerve in the inner ear are damaged. Sensorineural hearing loss can occur during pregnancy or after birth. Although this type of hearing loss is permanent, hearing aids and other devices can help children hear well enough to develop language skills in most cases.

Congenital sensorineural hearing loss occurs during pregnancy. Common causes for this type of impairment include viral infections such as Rubella, genetic problems, premature birth and other complications.

Possible causes of acquired sensorineural hearing loss include childhood diseases or illnesses, such as chicken pox, measles, and encephalitis. Mumps is the most common cause of one-sided deafness in the United States. A traumatic head injury can also cause permanent hearing loss.

One of the newest, and most preventable, forms of sensorineural hearing loss in children is related to loud noise in their environment. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 5.2 million children and adolescents aged 6-19 years have suffered permanent hearing loss as the result of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sets 85 decibels (dB) as a safe level for noise, yet maximum sound from an iPOD shuffle is 115 dB and levels at rock concerts sometimes reach intensities of more than 120 dB.

Music isn’t the only culprit for this growing problem, however. Even prolonged exposure to everyday items such as gas powered lawn mowers or loud motorcycles can permanently affect a child’s hearing. You can protect your child from NIHL by teaching him to wear ear protection in noisy environments, how to cover his ears and move away from loud noises, and to listen to his music at safe levels.

More than 24,000 children are born with hearing loss in the United States every year. If you suspect your child is having trouble hearing, experts encourage you to get help immediately. According to the California Ear Institute, children with untreated hearing loss take twice as many trips to the emergency room, are ten times more likely to be held back in grade school, and stand a greater risk of being misdiagnosed with ADHD.


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