What is Childhood Hearing Loss? - SightMD Skip to main content

December 19, 2022

By: Lindsay Beckler, AuD

What is Childhood Hearing Loss?

doctor looking into a babies ear

Universal hearing screening for newborns has helped to identify most children with hearing issues quickly and accurately. With simple tests, 80 to 90 percent of hearing loss can be detected, and children can begin early intervention with the best possible outcomes for language development.

However, even if your child passed the newborn screening at birth, hearing loss that is genetic or progressive may not appear until later, when a child is a toddler or older. It’s important to identify the signs that may suggest a possible hearing loss in your child as quickly as possible, so that the next steps can be taken: testing, followed by appropriate treatment and management.

Here at SightMD while it is well-known that we are specialists in eye care, we are equally dedicated to diagnosing and helping issues that involve the sense of hearing. The earlier such issues are discovered, the better our patients will be able to hear for the future. Let us therefore examine hearing loss in children, and signs to be aware of. If you have a child and are concerned about their ability to hear, pay special attention.

Does my child have hearing loss?

Many children with mild or progressive deafness seem to manage extremely well. Their speech and language development may appear normal in the early years and as they get older they do well at school.

Each child is unique, and there could be one or more factors contributing as to why they have difficulty hearing. Look out for the following signs which may indicate glue ear, mild or progressive deafness.

What to look for in the Infant and Toddler

Delayed or absent speech development is the most important clue indicating a possible hearing loss in the very young child. Identifying hearing loss in the infant and young child requires watching for critical developmental milestones. Detecting a hearing loss as early as possible and then treating it can help your child’s speech and language develop at a rate comparable with that of children without a hearing loss.

Use the following milestones as a guideline, and always discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.

  • By 3 months, your baby recognizes your voice, makes cooing noises, and is startled by sudden, loud noises.
  • By 6 months, your baby recognizes speech sounds and familiar voices, turns his head toward interesting sounds, plays with his own voice, and laughs. Your baby uses his voice to indicate pleasure and discomfort, and has speechlike conversations with caregivers.
  • By 9 months, your baby understands simple words like “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “no,” “bye-bye,” and his own name. By 10 months, your baby’s babbling should sound speech-like, with strings of single syllables (“da-da-da-da”).
  • By 12 months, one or more real, recognizable, spoken words emerge.
  • By 18 months, your toddler should understand simple phrases and be able to retrieve familiar objects and point to body parts on command (without gestures). Your toddler has a spoken vocabulary of 20 to 50 words and short phrases (“all done,” “go out,” “Mommy up”) and is learning new words every week.
  • By 24 months, your toddler’s spoken vocabulary should be 200 to 300 words, and simple sentences can be spoken. Adults who do not spend time with your child on a daily basis can understand your child’s speech. Your child should be able to sit and listen while being read to.

What to look for in the Older Child

It is more difficult to identify hearing loss in children who have developed speech skills, as they may have unconsciously developed coping techniques to compensate for their loss. Watch for these signs:

  • Your child seems to hear fine some of the time and then not respond at other times
  • Your child wants the TV volume louder than other members of the family
  • Your child says “What?” more often
  • Your child moves one ear forward when listening, or he complains that he can only hear out of his “good ear”.
  • Your child’s grades fall or their teacher notes that they do not seem to hear or respond as well in the classroom as other children.
  • Your child says that they didn’t hear you. This may seem obvious, but many parents assume that their children are not paying attention when in fact there may be an unidentified hearing loss.
  • It seems as though your child is just not paying attention.
  • Your child starts to speak more loudly than previously.
  • If your child looks at you intensely when you speak to them, as if concentrating, they may be depending more on visual cues for interpreting speech.
  • You just have a feeling, but you can’t put your finger on what your concern is. Don’t let that stop you. Ask your doctor for a referral to ease your mind.

There are many possible causes of acquired hearing loss that appear months or years after birth. Most hearing loss in children without obvious risk factors (such as premature birth) has a genetic cause.

If your child has exhibited any of the signs listed above, find out the audiology and hearing specialists at SightMD can help. From performing tests to prescribing hearing aids, we can provide the proper care to improve your child’s ability to hear and communicate. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.