Hearing loss is partial or total lack of ability to perceive sound. It can be present at birth or acquired at a point in one’s life.
WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that more than 11.5 billion people globally experience some sort of degree of hearing loss and also estimates 430 million people have moderate severe loss in the better ear. To bring it home the approximate is that 1 in 4 people has a hearing loss.
Having hearing loss may pose some difficulties in children like lack of ability to acquire spoken language, interaction with other children and may end up feeling lonely.
Some causes of hearing loss in children include;
- Genetic factors
- Infections (e.g. meningitis, otitis media, measles)
- Otoxicity (medicines e.g. gentamycin, quinine cisplatin)
- Birth complications (e.g. premature birth, low birth weight, birth asphyxia)
- Prenatal infections (syphilis ,rubella ,herpes ,HIV)
- Loud noises
The signs and symptoms of hearing loss are different with each child. Some signs to look out for in babies are like not being startled in presence of loud sound, not turning the head to source of sound at around 6 months of age and at one year they are not saying any word like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. In older children having or developing hearing loss may lead to them not having speech or if they have speech it will not be clear. When they are given an instruction, they may not follow and one may think that they are either ignoring you or not paying attention. They also keep saying ‘huh’ when they are being talked to and trying to lean their head trying to get their ears close to you. When watching TV, they will put a loud volume. It is important that parents are keen and take their children for hearing loss screening as soon as possible.
There are various ways to diagnose hearing loss and also help those that are found to be hard of hearing. When babies are born they should be screened for hearing loss with a test called Otoacoustic Emission (OAE). It is a simple painless test that takes less than a minute and will be able to give adequate results.If a baby upon screening does not get a pass they are referred to do an additional test called Brain Evoked Responses (BERA),this will give the exact hearing level of the child. Other test is Pure Tone Audiometry (PTA) where older children are given a sound signal through headphones and respond by raising their hand or doing a task to show that they have heard the signal and the results are plotted on a graph.
Children found to be hard of hearing are treated according to their degree of loss. Babies with severe to profound hearing loss undergo surgery for a cochlear implant after which they will be able to perceive sound. Hearing aids can also be given. They are programmed according to loss of the child to amplify enough sound for them to interact with others. They are also taught sign language and lip reading so as to add on to more ways to communicate.
There are ways we can prevent hearing loss in children. Prenatal care is important so that the health of the baby is guaranteed. Proper and timely immunization of the children to avoid infections that may lead to hearing loss is of great importance. Parents should also not expose their children to loud noise via headphones or earphones. Self-medication with over the counter antibiotics should also be avoided because some of them are harmful to the ear if not prescribed by the doctor for the correct dose and for the correct purpose. Care should also be taken not put objects in the ears. Use of the cotton buds to clean the ears should be discouraged for it may lead to accumulation of wax in the ear or may lead to perforation of the ear drum or bruising and the skin in the ear canal leading to infection which eventually leads to hearing loss.
Written by Dr Nancy Kemunto- Audiologist at MP Shah Hospital
*The views and opinions expressed are entirely by the author.