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When to take your child to a hearing professional

February has been designated as Kids ENT Month, and for good reason. Did you know that the number one reason children visit their pediatrician is for ear infections? Did you know that repeated ear infections can cause hearing loss?

Though infants are examined for hearing loss at birth and children are screened before entering school, it's important to know the signs of hearing loss in a child. Some of these symptoms may be confused with behavioral issues, so to be sure you know for certain, it's necessary to take your child to an audiologist for screening. Here's what you need to know:

Hearing loss in children and infants

Though hearing loss can be present at birth, often due to Eustachian tube defects or other genetic causes, it can also occur shortly after in infancy or in later childhood, a phenomenon known as late onset hearing loss. Oftentimes, hearing loss gets worse and is referred to as progressive. Causes of hearing loss include hereditary conditions, loud noise exposure, infections, trauma, damage due to medications or if the child has inserted a foreign object into his or her ear.

hearing loss symptoms in childrenIt's important to know the generally accepted behaviors and milestones that most babies exhibit at certain ages and levels of development. This will help you determine if your child is showing signs of possible hearing loss. Here's what to know:

Signs of normal hearing in infants

  • Birth to 3 months: At this age, a sleeping infant will wake due to sudden noises. He or she is typically soothed by the mother's voice. The baby coos, laughs and gurgles.
  • 3 to 6 months: An infant will move his or her eyes and turn his or her head to search for a source of the sound. A baby should make many babbling sounds and change the pitch of his or her voice. Babies at this age respond to their mother's voice, generally enjoy noise-making toys and seem to be conscious of their surroundings.
  • 6 to 10 months: Babies at this age may turn around to find sources of sounds they can't see. They react when called by name, even in loud surroundings. They should understand "no" and make many different sounds.
  • 10 to 15 months: Babies imitate simple sounds and words, can make many different sounds and react to human voice with babbling. They also know the names of objects and people, even if they cannot yet say them, and will look at or react to those things when mentioned. Babies between 10 to 15 months of age react to sounds behind them and respond to remote noises as well.
  • 15 to 18 months: Babies at this age can follow simple spoken instructions. They begin to speak their first words and their voices sound normal. They will respond to being called from another room and recognize toys, body parts and other familiar things. They will rock to music and repeat words.
  • 18 to 24 months: Toddlers have a small vocabulary, start to use two-word sentences and can understand simple directions like "Give daddy the truck."
  • 24 to 36 months: Two and three year olds have clear speech and begin to build good vocabulary.

In general, if your infant or toddler does not respond to noises from behind and does not startle at loud sounds, this merits a visit to the audiologist.

Sings of hearing loss in children

In older children, there are still developmental milestones, but they vary and are not as prescriptive. You should take your child to an audiologist if he or she:

  • Talks too loudly.
  • Watches TV or listens to the music with the volume turned up much too high.
  • Does not respond when called, especially if called from behind or another room.
  • Says that he or she cannot hear the teacher, and has a dip in school grades.
  • Has delayed speech.
  • Has unclear speech.
  • Says "huh?" or "what?" more frequently than other children.
  • Does not follow directions.
  • Seems to be daydreaming or inattentive frequently.
  • Complains that he or she has ringing, whooshing or other sounds in his or her ears.

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