Preventing Hearing Loss in Kids
Music, movies, cell phones, computers and tablets – what does this technology have in common? Ear buds and ear phones that, if not used properly, can cause significant hearing loss in children and teens.
The digital age today has great opportunities for progress and communication like no other generation before. However, with such technology comes necessary recommendations for the protection of children’s and teen’s ears.
“The big thing we’re dealing with now is noise exposure, especially when kids are old enough to wear headphones,” says Dr. Amberly Nye, Au.D., audiologist at Ear Institute of Texas. “Be careful about the volume set on the headphones for children of any age.”
Lisa Lopez, Parent Infant Program Director of Sunshine Cottage in San Antonio, gives a good rule of thumb for parents concerning device volume. “You shouldn’t be able to hear the sound coming out of headphones and ear buds. If you can hear it as a parent, your child is listening way too loud,” Lopez says.
Parents can also install apps that limit volume on devices automatically. In addition to caution with electronic devices, Nye advises using proper ear protection when attending loud events.
“Anytime they [kids]attend an event that has a lot of noise like a concert or monster truck rally, regardless of age, have them wear some kind of protective device like ear plugs. That goes for older kids who may be shooting as well,” says Nye.
Another way to prevent hearing loss in children is to manage ear infections immediately, says Lopez.
“We have to medically manage when our children have middle ear fluid, such as an ear infection,” says Lopez. “Parents need to be diligent in going to their pediatrician or ear, nose and throat doctor for children who have chronic middle ear problems. While they have fluid in that middle ear cavity they can have up to a moderate hearing loss, although it is a temporary hearing loss while the fluid is present, it can still be significant.”
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this middle ear fluid is called otitis media and can present without fever or pain that, if left untreated can leave children behind in speech due to the temporary hearing loss. If otitis media occurs multiple times, permanent damage to the eardrum and hearing loss may result. To catch even this temporary hearing loss, hearing screenings should be conducted regularly beginning at the newborn stage, before children reach 1 month.
“As far as when a child should be checked: at birth, with a newborn hearing screening, and then typically again when they do checks in the school in kindergarten and those younger ages,” says Nye.
If parents suspect hearing loss in a child, their pediatrician should be able to conduct a hearing test or refer them to an audiologist.
According to Nye and Lopez, signs of hearing loss can include:
- In infants and toddlers:
- No startles at loud noises
- Does not turn head when name is called
- Language delay
- Trouble with articulation
Children and teens:
- Favoring one ear while talking on the phone
- Turning up the TV too loud
- Complaints of not being able to hear the teacher at school
When it comes to speech delays in toddlers, Lopez says it is important to have hearing checked before beginning speech therapies.
“So many children get put into speech and language therapy and then later on find out they have a hearing impairment,” says Lopez. “We have about five years to hardwire the ear to the brain, to establish those neural pathways and, if we want [hearing-impaired] children to have listening and spoken language, early identification is the key.”
Lopez says that by 12 months a child should be able to follow one-step commands and know about 20 words. At 15 to 18 months, they should know 50 words, and after 18 months they should have greater understanding and a good use of nouns.
“Forty percent of all hearing loss is progressive, so if a young child between the ages of 2 and 5 is not talking or has a significant speech or language delay, even though they passed the newborn hearing screening, they should undergo an audiological diagnostic evaluation. We need to rule out that the language delay is not due to progressive hearing loss,” says Lopez.
There are a variety of resources for parents who suspect hearing loss in their child or who have a child diagnosed with hearing loss.
Nye recommends Sunshine Cottage as a great local resource for parents who have children diagnosed with hearing loss. Sunshine Cottage, while a private school, also offers non-sedated infant screening and other resources for families.
“If a baby has failed newborn hearing screening, the parent must be diligent in getting a diagnostic ABR and that’s where, nationally, we are having trouble. Babies are failing the hearing screening at the hospital and then we’re missing these children due to lack of follow up,” says Lopez. “They’re not receiving the next step – the definitive evaluation that will tell us if they have hearing loss. Sometimes that’s due to fear, or not knowing where to go. Sometimes there is no place where they live.”
There are several places in the San Antonio area to follow up should a child fail their newborn hearing screening including Sunshine Cottage, University Hospital in San Antonio and Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin. For more information and local resources see below.
April Lynn Newell, a San Antonio based freelance writer, is expecting her first child.