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Hearing Loss in Children: Back to School Awareness

Well summer is winding down and kids across the nation have found their way back into the classroom. Back to school time is always an exciting time of year; a new class, new friends and new things to learn. But the fact is, school is where kids learn the skills required to live in our society, to make a contribution, earn a living and enjoy all that the world has to offer.

One important aspect to learning, the ability to hear, is an often overlooked necessity. Unfortunately, a loss of hearing among youngsters limits the ability to learn, one reason that the detection of pediatric hearing loss is so vital.

The Role of Hearing in Learning

Humans learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear around them. Parents quickly learn that "Mama" and "Dada" are the first steps toward language acquisition – the ability to speak and be understood and, during those first five years, children with normal hearing learn an entire language. It's an amazing accomplishment, especially when you consider how difficult it is for adults to learn a foreign language.

However, when young people experience hearing loss, they lose the ability to hear sounds to imitate. If sounds are muffled, or completely absent, children have a more difficult time learning to speak.

That's why it's so critical to (1) have your child's hearing tested early and (2) protect the child's ability to hear in a very noisy world. The developing, growing hearing mechanism of a child is particularly sensitive to loud noise – noise that can do damage that lasts a lifetime.

As the child grows and enters school, undetected hearing loss contributes to longer learning curves. At times, children may be misdiagnosed with cognitive learning delay caused by some other underlying factor other than simple, addressable hearing loss.

Hearing loss at a young age often goes undetected, yet loss of hearing can be caused by a number of factors including: childhood diseases, exposure to loud noise over long periods of time, fluid from middle ear infections and even certain medications have been tied to loss of hearing in toddlers.

Some types of hearing loss are permanent, other types are temporary. For example; fluid in the middle ear causes a conductive hearing loss which is typically temporary. In children often times fluid is present in the middle ear without signs of an ear infection. Parent and teachers may not realize the child has fluid until they see the signs of hearing loss. Thankfully once detected, the hearing loss caused by the fluid can be relieved once medical treatment is sought.

Permanent Hearing Loss in Children

children hearing aids
Kid Tested. Safari hearing aids by Oticon.

The sooner hearing loss in children is detected the better. Today, there are hearing aids designed to fit infants and children with hearing loss, improving the child's ability to hear, imitate sound, speak and ultimately learn.

So what do you do if you suspect hearing loss in your child?

First, contact your school district and ask to have your child's hearing screened. Most school systems have an educational audiologist or otherwise qualified staff member to screen for hearing loss.

Second, if hearing loss is detected, see an audiologist. Most states require children ages 18 and under be seen by audiologists for their hearing care. If hearing aids are required, audiologists will be able to fit and fine tune the hearing aids for not only your child's daily life but their classroom experience.

Pediatric hearing aids are designed to stay in place during the rough and tumble recess activities and, because these hearing aids can be tuned, they deliver the highest quality sound in a low-profile package.

Teens, Tunes and Hearing Loss

With older children, the problem isn't learning language skills, it's MP3 players, iPods, cell phones and other electronics that send too many tunes and tones down the ear canal over a long period of time.

Recent studies indicate teen hearing loss is on the rise, in addition data supports that over half of teenagers and college students are listening to personal music players at risky levels – levels that have the potential to cause permanent hearing loss.

Educate your teen and protect your teen's ears. Discuss with them listening at safe listening levels and the consequences of if they don't. These consequences can include permanent ringing of the ears, hearing loss and someday the need to wear hearing aids. Also consider buying your teen noise canceling headphones to listen to their music. These headphones block out background noise around them which reduced the likelihood of them turning up their music.

Pediatric Hearing Loss: A Grown-Up Problem

Pre-schoolers aren't going to pick up the telephone and make an appointment with an audiologist and teens just don't recognize the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing professionals are seeing younger and younger patients – some in their teens – who require hearing aids due to a damaged hearing mechanism.

No, it's up to parents and care givers to ensure that all's right in the ears of a child. If a child is slow to speak, slow to learn, have that child's hearing tested – NOW. If your child is listening to music at risky levels, educate them on consequences.

Hearing loss among children is on the rise. Only grown-ups can fix the problem.

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