The Importance of Hearing Screenings for Young Children
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

The Importance of Hearing Screenings for Young Children

What parent doesn’t look forward to their baby’s first word? But for the roughly 3 out of every 1,000 American children are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, that much-anticipated milestone is frequently delayed. However, when diagnosed and treated early, newborns with hearing loss can often achieve normal or near-normal speech, language, and hearing milestones.

All babies born in the hospital receive hearing screenings—sometimes more than one—before leaving the hospital. Babies who don’t pass the screening, are scheduled for a follow-up screening or hearing test. This is a crucial step in determining whether an infant has hearing loss and making sure they get the services and resources they need to keep their development on track.

But even children who pass the infant-hearing screening aren’t completely out of the woods when it comes to potential hearing loss.

As children grow, issues within the ear can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Some common causes of hearing loss in children include:

  • Fluid in the ear brought on by colds or allergies
  • Inner ear infections
  • Water in the ear from swimming or baths
  • Excessive ear wax in the ear canal
  • Congenital deformities of the outer or middle ear
  • Small objects that get stuck in the ear

Many times, hearing loss is not obvious and can go unnoticed for months or even years, which is why regular hearing screenings for young children are essential.

Signs of Hearing Loss in Children
– Doesn't startle at loud noises
– Doesn't turn toward sounds
– Is slow to begin talking or is hard to understand
– Can't say single words such as "dada" or "mama" by 12 to 15 months
– Is slow to sit or walk without support
– Has trouble holding their head steady
– Doesn't notice you until they see you
– Focuses on vibrating noises more than other sounds
– Shows no enjoyment or pleasure when you read to them
– Doesn't always respond when called, especially from another room
– Appears to hear some sounds, but misses others
– Wants music or TV volume on louder than other family members
If you or your child’s caregiver notices any of these signs in your child, contact your pediatrician to schedule a hearing screening.

 

Hearing screenings for young children are quick, safe and non-invasive. A screening may involve:

  • Pure-tone Audiometry: This test measures a child's ability to hear different tones and frequencies. The child wears headphones and responds to sounds by raising their hand or pressing a button.
  • Speech Audiometry: This test assesses a child's ability to hear and understand speech. The child listens to recorded speech sounds and responds verbally or by pointing to pictures.
  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) and Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Tests: Similar to newborn screenings, these tests measure the response of the inner ear and the auditory nerve to sound.

Because hearing loss can fluctuate—especially when it’s tied to fluid or infection—repeated screenings may be recommended. This helps ensure that any potential hearing loss is truly resolved through whatever prescribed treatment has been offered, or, it may highlight the need for further testing and intervention.

Failing to screen and treat hearing loss can lead to profound developmental, social, and behavioral challenges including:

  • Impaired speech
  • Lowered reading ability
  • Reduced vocabulary
  • Difficulty building and maintaining friendships
  • Challenges following directions and academic struggles
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Difficulty communicating needs
  • Social withdrawal

Regular hearing screenings for young children are essential for identifying and addressing any hearing issues early. Thanks to advancements in medical technology, most hearing loss in children can be identified early and managed effectively, ensuring they’re able to reach their full potential and enjoy the sounds of their childhood to the fullest. 

NOTE: Every state has an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (also called EHDI) program that works to help children with hearing loss and their families. It can help with full hearing tests and other services for your baby. You can find your local EHDI program through the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management website.

 

Jennie Moon, MBA, HR Certificate is the Program Coordinator of Children’s Integrated Services Early Intervention in Bennington.

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