5 Things Parents and Caregivers Should Know About Kids’ Hearing Problems

Coach giving children swimming lessons in pool.

Good hearing is essential for kids to learn and be safe. If hearing problems develop and go undetected, kids may struggle to grow and adapt to the world around them. Many parents are concerned about their kids experiencing hearing loss. Review five things parents and caregivers should know about kids hearing problems.

  1. Statistics

    About two or three of every 1,000 babies born in the United States has abnormal hearing. Hearing loss can occur in one or both ears and can be mild, moderate or severe. Here are three things to know:

    • About 90% of deaf children are born to parents with normal hearing. Children are more likely to have hearing loss if the condition runs in the family. In addition, babies born early, preterm or prescribed antibiotics as infants are at higher risk for hearing problems.
    • Kids with normal hearing at birth may develop hearing loss later on. Nearly 15% of kids ages 6 to 19 suffer from temporary or permanent hearing loss.
    • Hospitals routinely conduct newborn hearing tests within 24 to 48 hours after a baby is born. This test can identify babies with moderate to profound hearing loss. If problems are identified, a second screening is conducted a few weeks later. Some kids who pass the initial test may develop mild hearing loss later in childhood. Research shows that kids with even mild hearing loss can struggle with language development and learning in school.
  2. Causes

    Hearing experts have identified several reasons for hearing loss in children. Here are three primary causes:

    • Genetics or medications – Researchers believe that family genetics cause over 50% of hearing loss that kids experience at birth or later in life. Some babies develop hearing problems during pregnancy if the mother has diabetes or preeclampsia. Hearing loss also can happen if the mom takes ototoxic medications or has a premature birth.
    • Ear infections – Children often have infections in the middle ear, called otitis media. It’s when the tubes connecting the nose to the middle ear are not fully developed. Fluids can develop behind the eardrum and block sounds. Sometimes the hearing loss is temporary as the problem resolves itself. But, if the problem occurs frequently and a severe infection develops, otitis media can create permanent hearing loss.
    • Injury or illness – Hearing loss in children may develop from head injuries, exposure to loud noises or illnesses. This includes measles, chickenpox, flu, meningitis or encephalitis. In addition, research indicates that exposure to second-hand smoke can contribute to hearing loss.
  3. Symptoms

    Parents should continually watch their kids for signs of hearing problems. Know these common symptoms of hearing loss in children:

    • Fails to respond to voices or loud noises.
    • Speaks differently than other kids of the same age, makes simple sounds that taper off, misunderstands questions, or says “what?” or “huh?” a lot.
    • Complains of ear pain, earaches, or pulls and rubs at the ear.
    • Turns up the volume on the TV or digital devices.
    • Sits close to the TV or computer screen or holds digital devices close to the face.
    • Struggles academically or doesn’t participate in class discussions.
  4. Diagnosis

    Every state now has an early hearing and detection program to screen for hearing loss in children. So all children are screened as infants. There’s also support for families of kids with hearing loss. Parents who detect signs of hearing loss in their kids should ask their doctor about options for hearing tests and treatment.

  5. Treatment

    Identifying and treating hearing problems at a young age can help kids develop normal speech and language skills. Depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss, there are six common treatment options:

    • Prescription medication
    • Surgery
    • Cochlear implants
    • Speech therapy
    • Use of assistive learning devices in school classrooms
    • Hearing aids

    Many children find help for hearing problems with hearing aids. Kids’ hearing aids are similar in design to adult hearing aids, but they are smaller and more durable. They are designed without allergens or harmful chemicals and come in several colors. Hearing aids can be fitted on babies when only a few months old. As they develop, kids will need regular hearing exams and new hearing aids to fit their changing hearing needs.

Healthy Hearing
National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association