Unilateral Hearing Loss in Children Could Affect Later Development

A common misconception about hearing loss is that it only affects older adults. But not only are children also impacted, hearing loss can actually affect their development. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2 – 3 out of every 1,000 children are born with some degree of hearing loss. Additionally, an estimated 15% of school aged children and teens (6-19) also have some degree of imapired hearing. Experiencing hearing loss earlier on can impact childhood development. Studies show that unilateral hearing loss (impaired hearing in one ear) cna cause delays in speech and language development. 

Link Between Hearing Loss & Developmental Delays 

Various studies show how hearing loss can impact development. This includes a recent study conducted by researchers at Sichuan University (in China) who examined the relationship between hearing loss and developmental delays. The study included nearly 200 infants and toddlers (under the age of 3). Researchers found that compared to children without hearing loss, children with unilateral hearing loss, “lagged behind in the function of sound discrimination and identification, preverbal vocalization, as well as trajectory of EPLAD [early prelingual auditory development]”. Their findings also show that profound unilateral hearing loss caused more severe EPLAD delays.  

These findings support other studies that highlight the impact of hearing loss on development. This includes a study that examined the link between hearing loss and reading comprehension. The study included 195 students, ages 8-10, whose reading as well as writing and speech comprehension skills were assessed. Researchers found that 25% of the students who experienced reading difficulties also had mild to moderate hearing loss. These studies suggest that hearing loss experienced by infants and children can result in developmental delays which impact learning and communicating. 

Recognizing Signs of Hearing Loss 

It is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of hearing loss which looks different for babies and infants compared to toddlers and young children. Hearing loss symptoms for babies and infants include: 

  • Newborn doesn’t startle in response to loud sounds 
  • Doesn’t respond to your voice or toys that make sounds 
  • Does Not babel much or use voice to grab your attention 
  • Isn’t repeating simple words or can’t name common and familiar objects 

For children that are of speaking age, symptoms can include: 

  • Saying “huh” or “what” in response to what is being said
  • Asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or slower
  • Missing parts of a conversation, struggling to keep up with what is being said 
  • Experiencing learning challenges in the classroom
  • Increasing the volume on electronic devices 
  • Seeming distracted, confused, or lost in the classroom

These hearing loss symptoms can be mild to severe depending on the degree of hearing loss that is present. Parents and teachers can often mistake hearing loss for learning disabilities or behavioral issues which is why it is so important to have hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist. 

Diagnosing & Treating Hearing Loss 

The first step you can take to address your child’s hearing loss is to have their hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment present. Depending on the child’s age, hearing tests can incorporate the following: 

  • infants: for babies as young as 6 months, visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) is the type of test that is commonly used. This test involves playing various sounds and seeing if the baby responds with body movements like turning their head towards the sound. 
  • for toddlers and preschoolers: testing the hearing health of toddlers and preschoolers can involve what is referred to as play audiometry. This turns the hearing test into a sort of game where the child is asked to perform a task when they hear a specific sound (clap hands when you hear a bell). 
  • older kids: eventually, kids are able to have their hearing assessed the same way as adults. This involves wearing headphones while sounds are being played and indicating what they can hear. 

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids – electronic devices that provide ample support with processing sound. This maximizes one’s hearing capacity which has life-changing benefits – strengthens communication, supports learning, enriches social engagement etc. Contact us today to learn more about pediatric hearing loss and treatment.