In the UK, around 840 newborn babies each year and one in 1,000 children up to the age of 3 are found to have some degree of hearing loss. Children’s hearing problems that go untreated can have an adverse effect on your child’s speech development, performance at school and social interactions, and so a swift diagnosis and timely treatment are essential.
Signs of children’s hearing problems include not responding to loud noises or apparently not noticing when you call their name. It is common for children who can’t hear well to increase the volume on the TV or CD players. Children’s hearing problems can also cause speech difficulties and can result in your child doing a lot of daydreaming and not paying attention at school. Of course, many children do this even when their hearing is normal, so screening programmes to check children’s hearing problems are very important. These are available from soon after birth and continue into childhood so that hearing difficulties can be picked up as early as possible.
Although there are tests available at school, and from your GP or by referral in the NHS, the private sector is another option worth considering. If you have private health insurance, or family cover with a policy from work, getting a private hearing test is quick and convenient and can identify children’s hearing problems that need treatment.
How are children’s hearing problems assessed?
Standard hearing tests in newborns include an Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Test and, in some cases, an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Test, which assess the responses of the eardrum and brain to sounds played into the ear.
More comprehensive tests can detect older children’s hearing problems. The type of test that’s used will depend on the age of the child and the nature of their hearing loss:
Infant Distraction Test (IDT) and Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA): children’s hearing problems are assessed by checking their reaction to hidden sounds
Pure Tone Audiometry Test: your child raises their hand when they hear the sounds
Play Audiometry: your child carries out tasks to show that they have heard the sounds
Speech Perception Test: tests your child’s ability to recognise spoken words without the visual advantage of seeing the speaker
Tympanoetry: air is gently blown into the ear to assess the flexibility of the eardrum
What are the available treatment options for children’s hearing problems?
When children’s hearing problems appear to be permanent, treatment options include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and auditory rehabilitation, as well as ongoing speech and language therapy if needed.
The hearing aids most commonly used in children’s hearing problems are (smallest to largest):
Completely In The Canal (CIC): discreet and provides the most natural hearing process
In the canal (ITC): available in the programmable, digital, and conventional hearing aids
Behind The Ear Hearing Aids (BTE): sometimes called 'post-aural' hearing aids; usually worn with an ear mould to seal the ear and hold the device in place
Bone-anchored hearing aids – which transmit sound through bone conduction – can be used in children who are not able to wear a conventional hearing aid or who have conductive hearing loss.
Cochlear implants bypass the damaged structures within the ear to send electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve. Part of the device is placed under the skin behind the ear and a processor is worn externally on the body. Cochlear implants cannot cure deafness but can be helpful in children’s hearing problems that are severe or in children who were born deaf.