When Children Hear
Have you ever seen a child hear a sound for the first time? Depending on the sound, you may see many reactions, an inquisitive look, a beaming smile, a look of excited anticipation or even a cry if the sound frightens them. So how will you know if they are not hearing everything? Why would there be a problem with their hearing?
This blog post is a discussion on an area of health and is not to be used in place of professional advice from a health professional. If this post raises health concerns, then you should make an appointment to see your General Practitioner (Family Doctor).
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Children’s hearing develops while they are still in the womb and they are able to recognise their parent’s voices when they are born. In Australia, children have a hearing screen a few days after birth which is done by a midwife or paediatric nurse (Children’s Nurse). Most babies pass this screening test as they have normal hearing.
The newborn hearing screen, has your child been tested?
The newborn hearing screen has picked up many children who have been born with hearing loss and they have been able to receive assistance with their hearing from infancy. In 2017 1.7 babies out of every 1000 babies screened in the USA for hearing loss had a hearing impairment. If you would like to know more of the statistics for hearing impairment you can see this page by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children born with hearing loss may have inherited the hearing loss due to their genetics, have had an infection in the womb, been exposed to a harmful medication or chemicals and for others, there is an unknown cause.
Will a child’s hearing improve as they get older?
We are born with the best hearing that we will have in our lives and learn to listen as our brain makes sense of the sounds. If a child is born with hearing loss there hearing will not get better as they get older. For some conditions their hearing, many get worse as they get older for others it will remain the same and they may just lose some hearing due to age as their peers with normal hearing may experience. For more information on hearing loss in the world check out the World Health Organisation page. This is an inspirational video about hearing loss and kids ability to thrive and achieve their goals.
Technology today is very good so with hearing aids or cochlear implant children can learn to listen and speak very well. They need to have therapy from a speech therapist and practice at home with their family to develop their language. Some families with deaf children will choose sign language as the language for their child this is usually for children who are profoundly deaf. Some children will know sign language and be able to speak. So families that know their child has a hearing loss should be receiving help for their child from an Audiologist, a Speech Therapist and an Ear Nose and Throat specialist. Unfortunately, many families in developing countries have extremely limited access to services. Many supports in the developing world are provided by charities like Deaf Child Worldwide
How to Look After Your Child’s Hearing
For children who were born with normal hearing and hearing loss, it is important for parents to be aware of things that may cause hearing loss or further damage hearing. Some causes of hearing loss include ear infections, excessive noise, trauma, severe illness and medications needed to treat life-threatening illnesses. A lot of people will lose their hearing as they age. Just like our skin cells deteriorate so do our cells in the cochlea that allow us to hear a sound.
Children are not born with ear infections.
Ear infections can develop after they are born and untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss. Children and adults can get ear infections at any time but ear infections are more common in children under the age of 5. Middle ear disease (another name for an ear infection) can have a significant impact on a child’s hearing and can be temporary or permanent. If you suspect that your child has an ear infection or is not hearing well you need to take them to see a health care worker or Doctor.
So how do you know if your child has an ear infection?
The way to know for sure that the child has an ear infection is for a health professional to look in their ear with an otoscope (the instrument with the light). There are some signs and symptoms to look for and if you think that your child has any of these things then I recommend that your child see your family doctor as untreated ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss (careforkidsears.health.gov.au). A child with middle ear fluid can have a mild to moderate hearing loss. The fluid does not have to be causing an infection but it will still decrease the movement of the small bones in the middle ear which means the child is unable to hear normally.
Some signs and symptoms of middle ear fluid or ear infection
The child may have a runny nose – it could be any colour, clear, brown, green or yellow. This may go along with a sore throat or a cough. So any generalised head cold can cause fluid in the middle ear or an ear infection.
You child may have a fever but this is not always the case as sometimes the fluid in the middle ear can hang around for a long time and is not always causing infection.
A child who is pulling at their ears may have middle ear fluid. They discover that tugging their ear can temporarily relieve the pressure they are experiencing in the middle ear. Rubbing their ear is also something you might see.
Some children will experience pain in their middle ear. However, children may react differently to this pain depending on the child, their pain tolerance, their ability to communicate pain to you and the amount of inner ear pressure/tension they are experiencing. Some children will be screaming as the pain is so intense and others will be running around being hyperactive because they are uncomfortable and trying to find things that make them feel better.
Things may have changed with their talking – they are saying fewer words, talking loudly or quietly, they are no longer saying soft sounds in words like ‘s’ ‘f’ ‘th’.
Their response to sounds may have changed, they are not hearing properly – They may be responding with “what?” all the time, they may be turning devices like the TV or radio up to hear them. They may dislike being in noisy environments like a cafe as a blocked middle ear makes things sound like you are underwater all the time. This is a very disorientating and unpleasant experience when you can’t understand what anyone is saying and all normal sounds are so different! Young babies may not startle to loud sounds.
With eating your child may not want to eat all their food and they possibly will even be vomiting. Some children like to chew things as this can sometimes relieve the pain in their ear or help to clear it temporarily. Diarrhoea can also be a sign of middle ear disease.
Sometimes children will have runny fluid or pus draining from their ears. You may notice a strange smell before you notice the discharge. This can be a sign of a ruptured eardrum but you won’t know for sure until a doctor has a look in the ear as there could be other causes of this. A ruptured eardrum can cause permanent hearing loss so always see a doctor if you see discharge from the ear!
Signs and symptoms are not always obvious and each child can present their symptoms very differently. For this reason ask your health professional or doctor to check your child’s ears at each health check.
Care For Kids Ears has an excellent resource for parents with pictures of the signs and symptoms of ear disease and the things parents and caregivers can do to prevent ear disease.
Is loud music causing your child to lose their hearing?
Noise-Induced hearing loss is caused by loud sounds and is something we can manage so that children do not lose their hearing. Take note of the loud sounds that your child is exposed to. The World Health Organisation recommends that we should have a sound allowance for listening (Safe Listening Devices and Systems). They recommend 75 decibels for a maximum of 40 hours per week. You can buy noise limiting headphones and earbuds which if used correctly could protect your child from hearing damage.
Trauma can cause hearing loss.
One thing that you should NEVER, ever, ever, ever and never ever should do is put an object smaller than your elbow in your ear canal! The eardrum (tympanic membrane) is a very thin piece of tissue that can be easily torn by an object that is shoved in the ear canal!! A hole in the eardrum can result in permanent hearing loss or require surgery to repair it. I have seen some devices on the internet lately apparently for cleaning your ears!! These images sicken my stomach when I think or the permanent damage they could cause. Your ears have natural mechanisms that clean out the canal so you do not need to stick anything in-ears to clean them out. If you do have a blockage of wax this should be discussed with your doctor or audiologist and they can give you some care recommendations. For hygiene, a face washer is adequate to clear the outside of your ear.
Ear Health and Hearing Information for Teachers
If you are a teacher you may like to check out this information from Hearing Australia on helping children with hearing impairment in the classroom. Care For Kids Ears also has some downloadable resources that can be used in the classroom to explore ear health. This simulation of what it is like to use a hearing aid in the classroom is something every teacher needs to watch! This is an excellent video which explains how cochlear implants work. If you want to know how to help hearing-impaired children in the classroom this video is a must-watch as it shows how to use FM technology and use other classroom strategies.
What does it sound like when you have middle ear fluid?
Listen very carefully to the introduction of this video from Care for Kids’ Ears as it is a good simulation of what you hear when you have fluid in your middle ear.
My recommended reading list to explore hearing.
One of the best ways to help children who have experienced some delays with their language due to temporary or permanent hearing loss is to read to them. See My blog post article on Reading to Babies
I hope that this post has given you many useful links about hearing and hearing loss. Is there more you would like to know about hearing or hearing loss? Please leave comments below and I can add the information to this post or discuss your questions with you further.
All the best with caring for children’s hearing.
Naomi (about me)