Hearing loss can occur at any age, but is more serious in babies and young children due to the fact that hearing is essential for cognitive, language and speech development. This is why identifying any problems with hearing early is most beneficial as it demands immediate attention.
Types of Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss – This type of hearing impairment is the most common in young children. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by a range of factors and can be temporary or permanent. There is usually some kind of blockage to the middle ear or outer ear canal which is distorting and interfering with the transfer of sounds.
Sensorineural hearing loss – This hearing loss in children is due to damage or abnormalities of the inner ear or the auditory nerves that pass sounds on to the brain. It can be present at birth or occur afterwards, and this type of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Causes of Hearing Loss
1. Congenital hearing loss
One of the most common birth defects, congenital hearing loss means it was present in a child at birth. This can be due to genetic factors, or other causes including:
- Premature birth – If an infant weighs less than 3 pounds, has to spend several days in intensive care or requires life saving medicine for breathing, they are at risk of losing their hearing.
- Complications during birth – The presence of infections during labour can affect the baby’s hearing, such as herpes, rubella or toxoplasmosis. Requiring a blood transfusion and a lack of oxygen can also put the child at risk of hearing problems.
- Illness during pregnancy – If the mother suffers from infection whilst pregnant such as rubella, CMV, toxoplasmosis, herpes or syphilis, this can put the child at risk of hearing loss.
- Medicine during pregnancy – The use of ototoxic medicines can affect the structure of the hearing system of the child, or cause damage to the auditory nerves of the inner ear. Ototoxic medication can be various antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Neglect during pregnancy – If drugs, alcohol or cigarettes are used during pregnancy, this can affect the hearing of the child.
- Maternal health – If the mother has a disease such as diabetes, the child is at risk of hearing loss.
- Disorders – If the child is suffering from a nervous system or brain disorder, they may also experience hearing loss.
2. Otitis Media
Children are more susceptible to ear infections as the middle and inner ear are not fully developed. A build-up of fluid behind the ear drum can cause hearing issues, and this fluid can become infected. Symptoms and severity can vary with this infection, but the quicker it is treated the less hearing problems will be acquired.
3. Acquired Causes
Children can acquire hearing loss at any age, from causes such as:
- Infections – If infections such as measles, mumps or meningitis are caught at a young age, it may cause hearing loss.
- Head injury – A trauma to the head or neck area can damage hearing.
- Perforated ear drum – If the ear drum is damaged in anyway, it will cause hearing problems.
- Disease – If a child suffers from a disease such as otosclerosis or Meniere’s disease, they will be at risk of hearing loss.
- Exposure to loud noise – Frequent loud sounds or a sudden extreme noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
- Medicine – If a child takes oxotoxic medicines such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, diabetes or cancer-treating drugs, they may be at risk of losing their hearing.
- Wax – The build-up of wax in the ear can cause hearing loss in children.