Pediatric Audiology and Hearing Screenings

child with headphones on

As parents, we all want to make sure our children are living happy, healthy lives.  Part of keeping your children on the path to wellness is to ensure they receive regular well-child checkups.  At a well-child visit, your pediatrician may recommend an audiology test to determine whether or not any applicable milestones have been missed as a result of hearing loss or deafness.

Did you know that up to 3 children per 1,000 are born with some degree of hearing loss? And while deafness can be inherited, most children with hearing loss are born to parents of normal hearing ability. Some auditorily challenged children may not be born with hearing loss, but develop it over time as they grow, which is why it’s especially important to monitor your child’s hearing not only as infants, but as they grow into adolescents as well.

As is the case, it’s important to detect hearing loss early as it can affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language, and social skills.  While not ideal, if caught early, hearing loss won’t hinder a child’s ability to thrive and reach their full potential.

How Early Can Hearing Loss Be Detected in Children?

After a child is born, it’s not uncommon for a pediatric hearing test to be conducted before they ever leave the hospital.  There is no age too young to conduct a hearing test, and in fact, all children should have a hearing test within the first month of life.  If your child doesn’t pass a hearing test, we recommend getting a full screening as soon as possible, and no later than 3 months. If your child’s screening shows signs of hearing loss, intervention should begin no later than six months of age.

In other cases, children may not show signs of hearing loss until they’re a little older.  You may begin to come to this conclusion on your own if you notice your child isn’t responding to certain stimuli.  If you think your little one may be experiencing hearing loss, it’s important that you make an appointment to see your pediatrician as soon as possible.

How does screening and diagnosis work?

About 1-3 in every 1,000 children born in the U.S. are diagnosed with some form of hearing loss.  When they’re born, your child will likely receive a hearing screening test.  There are two common methods.

  • Automated Auditory Brain Response (AABR)
  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE)

Automated Auditory Brain Response (AABR)

This test uses a special computer to measure the way your child’s hearing nerves respond to sounds. Three to four small stickers, called electrodes, will be placed on their head and in front of their ears. As sounds are sent through the earphones, the computer measures how your child’s nerves respond. 

Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE)

In this method, a probe is placed in the ear canal and sends sounds into it. A special computer measures the sounds that come out of the ear. This test gives us information about the cochlea, which is located in the inner ear.

Both of these screenings are quick, painless, and can be conducted while your baby is sleeping. These tests may also be used to determine hearing loss in older children as well. It's important to note that even if your newborn doesn't pass a hearing test before leaving the hospital, it doesn't mean they're deaf or hard of hearing. There are other factors that may contribute to a lack of response to the stimulus provided by the hearing test. However, if they don't pass an early hearing test, your pediatrician will likely recommend visiting an audiologist to discern the extent of your baby's hearing loss.

doctor holding newborn

What Causes Hearing Loss in Children?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to hearing loss in children.

  • Premature birth
  • Ear infections
  • Injury to the head or ears
  • Prenatal Infections
  • Certain medications

Hearing loss can also be an inherited genetic trait, but as we mentioned previously, is common in children whose parents have normal hearing.

Symptoms of Pediatric Hearing Loss 

Some symptoms of hearing loss in children are more apparent than others.  Your child’s response to external stimuli is typically the first indication that something may be wrong.  Even newborns “jump” when exposed to a sudden sound, and by around 3 months of age, a baby should be able to recognize their parent’s voice and turn to look at them.

If hearing loss occurs later in life, other symptoms such as limited speech, inattentiveness, or failure to respond to conversations or their name may be the indicator.

Other common signs of hearing loss include:

  • Ignores the sources of normal sounds
  • Can hear some sounds but not others
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Turning up the volume on TVs and other devices
  • Speech isn’t clear or annunciated

If your child is exhibiting these or other symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with your pediatrician as soon as possible.

child with hearing aid

Can Pediatric Hearing Loss Be Cured?

Depending on the severity or cause of your child’s hearing loss, treatment and at least partial restoration of hearing may be achieved.  Treatment may also be reliant on the type of hearing loss a child has.

  • Conductive Hearing Loss - Most common type of hearing loss in babies and small children.  It is characterized by something blocking the outer or middle ear, preventing sound from reaching the inner ear, and can be caused by an infection.  Ear tubes, medicine, or surgery are the typical treatments.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss - As the name might suggest, this type of hearing loss involves an issue with our ear’s ability to transmit sound waves to our brain, and our brain’s ability to understand how to process that information.  This type of hearing loss is almost always permanent.  Treatment for this type of hearing loss is often a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

We’re Here To Listen

Our team of compassionate, experienced pediatricians has treated many children for all levels of hearing loss.  Although not ideal, hearing loss doesn’t mean your child’s life won’t be full of joy and very fulfilling.  Remember, catching signs of hearing loss early is the key to treatment.  If you believe your child may be experiencing hearing loss or deafness, make an appointment today and get the answers you need.