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How is Hearing Loss Diagnosed in Children?

You may be picking up on signs that are concerning about your child’s hearing. If toddlers aren’t meeting developmental milestones – particularly around speech and language – there could be an issue with their hearing. In children or teens, out-of-the ordinary poor school performance, or seeming to miss parts of conversations, may be signs of hearing loss.

If you’re worried about your child’s hearing, it’s important to obtain proper testing and if necessary, get a definitive diagnosis.


Knowing about the ear’s three main parts and each one’s role in hearing will help you understand testing and diagnosis down the road.


· Outer ear: This is the ear canal where sound waves travel to make the eardrum move in the middle ear.

· Middle ear: Once sound waves reach the eardrum here, the middle ear bones (ossicles) vibrate, which creates fluid movement in the inner ear.

· Inner ear: The fluid movement sends nerve signals to the brain. Once the brain receives the message, it identifies that message as sound.


How is hearing loss in children or pre-teens diagnosed?

Statistics show that nearly 15% of 6-to-19-year-olds will suffer from temporary or permanent hearing loss. Parents should remain vigilant in watching for signs of hearing loss in their children all the way through their teen years.


Since children can provide feedback and information, there are different hearing tests for them than infants. Most evaluations occur in a quiet, sound-treated booth and the child will wear headphones or soft earplugs connected to an audiometer. The three main tests are:

· Tone audiometry: Children will hear tones at different pitches and volumes and provide responses when they hear them. The test measures the very softest sounds a child can hear at each frequency tested.

· Speech audiometry: Instead of tones, this test evaluates recorded or live speech, again evaluating the softest sounds the child can hear and understand.

· Tympanometry: This evaluates acoustic reflexes and can document or rule out fluid in the middle ear, an infection, a hole in the ear drum or problems with any Eustachian tubes.


What are the basic types of hearing loss?

Based on the test results, your audiologist will be able to identify if your child has hearing loss. If he or she does, it will fall into one of these categories:


· Conductive Hearing Loss is a problem in the outer or middle ear resulting in the inability of sound to travel to the inner ear properly. Many instances of conductive hearing loss can be treated with medicine or surgery. Causes of conductive hearing loss can include earwax, fluids in the middle ear, ear infections, perforated eardrums and/or malformation of the outer or middle ear.


· Sensorineural Hearing Loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is usually treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants. In young children, sensorineural hearing loss can occur due to certain infections before birth, low birth weight or genetic causes.


· Mixed Hearing Loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Based on your child’s amount and type of hearing loss, your audiologist will likely recommend a certain type of hearing aid. Your doctor will also take into consideration your child’s activity level and ability in determining the best hearing aid for him or her.


While a hearing loss diagnosis for your child may feel like a gut punch, there are a lot of options and resources available to you and your family. Check out How to Cope with a Child’s Hearing Loss.


This information is provided by the Georgia-based Sounds Waves Pediatric Hearing Aid Program which provides children, ages birth to 19 years, with audiology services and hearing aid devices. The organization operates under the principle that no child should be denied hearing aids due to the inability to pay. Learn more by visiting or apply now.

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