As parents, we joke about selective hearing in our kids, but what do you do if you suspect they really might not be hearing you?
“It’s important to let your doctor know if you suspect any difficulty with your child’s hearing,” says Samantha Anne, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Pediatric Ear and Hearing Disorders program. She says some issues can be temporary or more serious — or even permanent. It’s important to investigate as soon as you notice an issue.
Does any of this sound familiar: Your child constantly asks you to repeat things or she says, “Huh?” a lot. She has been moved to the front row because she isn’t paying attention in class. Or your toddler isn’t talking quite as well as other children his age. These signs all could point to the same issue — hearing loss.
Dr. Anne offers insights into what might cause your child’s hearing loss and options for treatment.
What causes temporary hearing loss in children?
Temporary hearing loss typically resolves within a few months. Possible causes include:
- Blockage. Some children fail their school hearing screening. When this occurs, you may have them tested again at an audiologist’s office. The good news: The culprit may be often just excess wax in their ears.
- Infection. A cold or virus sometimes causes temporary hearing loss due to fluid accumulating in middle ear. You will most likely see this problem if your infant or child goes to daycare. Congestion and fluid in the ear from the infection limits movement of the eardrum. When the infection and/or fluid clears, the hearing returns.
- Trauma. If your child hits his head, hearing loss can be temporary due to blood flowing into the middle ear. However, if the injury fractures the temporal bone where the inner ear sits, this too can cause hearing loss. A surgeon may not be able repair this type of hearing loss however.
What can cause permanent hearing loss in children?
Several more serious issues can cause permanent hearing loss. Possibilities include:
- Genetic conditions. certain syndromes and inherited gene disorders cause hearing loss in children.
- Premature birth. Babies born early that spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit may have risk factors for hearing loss, including low birth weight and treatment with antibiotics and a ventilator.
- Ear malformations. Babies can be born with ear malformations, including deformed ear, narrow or obstructed ear canals.
- Noise exposure. Noises louder than 85 decibels (most portable music players reach higher than 100 decibels) can damage the tiny hair cells in the ear. Short-term exposure causes temporary hearing loss (on the day after a concert, for instance). However, long-term exposure can permanently damage the hair cells.
- Trauma. If your child hits his head hard enough, it may cause nerve damage. Doctors can’t fix this, but treatment may include various types of hearing aids.
- Illnesses. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis all sometimes cause lasting hearing loss in children.
Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child may have a hearing problem. If treatment is available — or if you can take steps to limit the damage — it’s always better to find out sooner rather than later.