Hearing loss in children can be categorised by the seriousness of it. They can be explained as mild, moderate to severe, severe, or profound. Regardless of the seriousness, there are 2 main types: ‘conductive’ and ‘sensorineural’. It is also possible to have both types, which will then be referred to as ‘mixed loss’.
It is also important to note that hearing loss in children can be vastly different compared to the problems faced by adults. Thus, it is crucial that parents evaluate and treat them differently from adults.
Conductive hearing loss
This hearing loss means that there is a problem with the mechanism that conducts sound from the environment to the inner ear. It happens when something interferes with the sound waves that are travelling from outside to your baby’s inner ear. Problems in the external auditory canal (outer ear), ear drum or the ossicles can cause conductive loss. Other possible factors include wax blockage, middle ear infection (otitis media), or a fluid build-up in the middle ear.
While it can be a temporary or permanent problem, this type of loss can usually be corrected by surgery. If surgery isn’t an option, the baby can usually grow up well with hearing aids.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This indicates that there is a problem in the cochlea or the hearing nerve. It is possible that there is damage to the inner ear, auditory nerve, or the auditory centers of the brain. Possible causes are abnormal inner ear development, physical injury to the inner ear, damage to the ear from diseases such as meningitis and rubella, or a tumour.
Unfortunately, sunsorinerual hearing losses are permanent. Children with this kind of hearing loss can have problems with balance and delayed development of motor skills. However, there are ways to combat it – with hearing aids, FM systems, cochlear implants, communication therapies, and a careful analysis and implementation of educational and communication approaches.
What causes hearing loss?
It is difficult to pinpoint what causes hearing loss in a child as it can be hereditary or acquired. Hereditary means that the baby was born with it while acquired means that the baby lost his/her hearing sometime after birth.
However, hereditary factors cause a large percentage of hearing loss in children. This can be caused by a defect of the outer or middle ear, but more often the damage exists in the cochlea. To ascertain if your baby’s hearing loss was caused by genetics, you can go for genetic counselling. While this information won’t be able to help your child, it can assist in future family planning.
Maternal illness during pregnancy, exposure to drugs, or complications during delivery can be causes of hearing loss too. Other non-hereditary causes include premature birth, low birth weight, incompatibility of the Rh factor of blood between parents, use of ototoxic drugs during neonatal period, cytomegalovirus (CMV) or oxygen deprivation.
Illness or accidents during and just after birth can cause your baby to have birth defects too. Some common illnesses are encephalitis, mumps, and jaundice. If your baby has a high fever, there’s a possibility that he/she could have hearing loss problems too.