Hearing loss can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to speak, learn, and understand. Nearly 2 in every 1,000 children are either born with or develop hearing loss of some kind.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help restore hearing ability during this critical period of time. From early detection to surgical repair and implantable technologies, Jed Kwartler, MD, a leading ear surgeon at Summit Health, discusses five tips every parent needs to know to help their little ones thrive.
1. Trust Your Instincts
Parents often tell Dr. Kwartler that they suspected something was wrong with their child’s hearing a year or two ago. Newborn hearing screenings, which are completed in most hospitals, are helpful in detecting congenital hearing loss that a baby is born with. However, the test is not foolproof—a newborn with a genetic hearing condition can pass with flying colors and then develop problems later. Nearly half of children are born with hearing loss while the rest acquire it over time.
“Parents know their kids better than anyone,” says Dr. Kwartler. “If they think there is a problem, they should believe in themselves and push to get their child tested.”
2. Early Intervention is Key
Identification is the first step in treating any problem, says Dr. Kwartler. There are reliable and simple ways to detect hearing loss in every age group. If you notice your child is not following the natural progression of development, talk with your pediatrician about testing. The sooner a problem is identified, the faster it can be managed. Look for the following clues:
- Newborns should startle at loud noises
- Three-month-old babies will recognize a parent’s voice
- A child should imitate sounds or say a few words by their first birthday
3. The Prognosis for Pediatric Hearing Loss is Promising
Fortunately, there are many treatments available today. Choosing the option that is right for your child depends on the cause and extent of the problem. There are three types of hearing loss:
- Conductive - Develops from a blockage or obstruction such as ear wax, fluid, or an injury. Typically treated with medication or surgery, one of the most common causes of conductive hearing loss is chronic ear infections.
- Sensorineural - Occurs when the hair cells and nerves in the ear are damaged or malformed. Medication and surgery are typically not helpful. Hearing aids are often used to amplify sound and cochlear implants, which are surgically placed in the ear, can directly stimulate the hearing nerves.
- Mixed - A combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss; treatment will vary.
“We never want a parent or patient walking away thinking there is nothing that can be done,” says Dr. Kwartler. “There is a continuum of ways we can rehabilitate children and help them lead normal lives.”
4. Cochlear Implants are Underused in Children Who Need Them
Parents can be tentative about surgically placing cochlear implants, particularly when the child still has some residual hearing. However, Dr. Kwartler advises not to wait.
“You are missing a window of opportunity,” he says. “Research shows there are critical periods when auditory stimulation is important for the development of speech and understanding. Early interventions help activate these parts of the brain.”
Cochlear implants are used in babies as young as nine months old. Every year, hearing-assisted technology improves and becomes easier to use. Today, hearing aids and cochlear implants are fairly small in size, have lengthy battery power, and can be connected to Bluetooth devices.
5. Surgical Ear Procedures are Safe and Easy
No parent wants their child to have surgery. But today’s procedures are typically minimally invasive—most kids tolerate the procedure very well and require little recovery time. Cochlear implant surgery is typically an hour-long outpatient procedure and your child can go home later that day.
Do not delay seeing your child’s doctor or scheduling surgery because you are concerned about COVID-19. Summit Health physicians follow strict precautions—patients are tested for the virus before surgery, the number of people in the office and operating room are limited, and proper personal protective equipment is worn by the staff at all times.