Four common causes of temporary hearing loss in children - and what to do when they occur
There’s no doubt about it – parenting is not for the faint of heart. One moment your child is hearing perfectly well and the next? He may be fussy and feverish or complaining that things “sound funny.” Is it time to call the doctor? Maybe. Here are four of the most common causes of temporary hearing loss in children and what you should do if they occur.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), five of every six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. In fact, ear infections are the most common reason parents take their child to the doctor. The good news is, although they can cause your child a lot of discomfort and hearing loss, ear infections usually clear up on their own without any permanent damage to the hearing.
The most common type of ear infection among children is known as acute otitis media (AOM). This occurs when parts of the middle ear become infected and swollen, trapping fluid behind the eardrum. If your child isn’t old enough to tell you they have an earache, look for these symptoms:
What to do
Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria from your child’s cold or sore throat that spread to the middle ear. Children age two and older may benefit from treatment at home, which includes:
Even though most ear infections clear on their own without antibiotics, you’ll want to schedule a visit to the doctor for an evaluation if your child’s condition doesn’t improve after a few days. Always consult your physician if your child is younger than two.
It’s hard to believe, but earwax serves a purpose. Not only does its waterproof properties help protect the eardrum and ear canal, it also traps dirt, dust and other particles from entering the ear and irritating the eardrum. Here’s another shocker: the body produces just as much earwax as it needs and knows how to get rid of the excess. It’s okay to use a washcloth to gently clean your child’s ear, but please don’t use cotton swabs or any other object to reach any accumulation you might see in the ear canal. These objects can actually push the earwax further into the ear canal and/or puncture the eardrum, causing more harm than good.
What to do
If your child complains he can’t hear well or sound is muffled, he may have an excess of earwax which is blocking the ear canal and preventing him from hearing well. In that case, make an appointment with your family doctor. If the earwax is causing pain or interfering with your child’s hearing, she will be able to remove the excess safely in just a few minutes. If it’s not earwax, it might be another type of obstruction.
By their very nature, kids are curious. As infants, they stick everything they can find into their mouths. When they get a little older, they start discovering other body orifices to explore and may curiously try to see if something fits where it doesn’t belong – like in their ears. Common objects include pebbles, hearing aid batteries, beans and small candies. Although it’s very normal for them to explore in this manner, it can lead to swelling, infection and temporary hearing loss.
How can you tell if your child has put something into his ear? You may not be able to immediately. If the object is lodged far enough into the ear canal, you may not notice until your child complains of an earache or that things sound “funny”. You may possibly see some discharge from the ear, although not always.
What to do
If you suspect your child has something stuck in his ear:
We jest, but no self-respecting kid ever listens to their parent(s) 100 percent of the time, right? That’s why you need to cut yourself a lot of slack if you’ve “misdiagnosed” your child with a case of selective listening when in fact they had a real hearing problem. Good listening and communication skills develop over time and one of the most important components is making sure they can hear well to begin with.
To keep your child’s hearing in tip-top shape:
If you are concerned about your child's hearing ability, please find a hearing care professional in your area who specializes in pediatric hearing testing. Hearing testing can be done at any age and many children find it quite fun!