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Hearing loss in children: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hearing loss in children

Hearing loss is defined as an inability to hear sound, and this may be partial or complete. Hearing loss results from affliction of the ear, which is an organ of hearing and maintaining equilibrium. The ear is divided into various parts namely the external ear (pinna), the ear canal which joins the external ear with the middle ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Hearing loss can arise from damage in the external, middle or the inner ear.

Hearing loss in children: Incidence, age and sex

Hearing loss in children is not commonly encountered in the general population. It may affect children of all age groups including infants. Boys and girls are equally affected.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss in children: Diagnosis

The signs and symptoms of hearing loss may be evident when an affected child speaks in an inappropriately loud voice or frequently asks for repeating statements. Hearing loss can either be unilateral or bilateral. Hearing loss can be ‘conductive’ or ‘sensori-neural’. Conductive hearing loss results in disruption in the conduction of sound between the external and the middle ear. This usually affects one ear and is reversible in most of the conditions. Sensori-neural hearing loss results from damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Auditory nerve is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses between the brain and the inner ear. The hearing loss may be accompanied by other symptoms like ear pain and ringing in the ears, depending upon the underlying ear ailment.

It is advisable to consult an ear specialist who shall conduct a comprehensive ear examination including hearing tests like audiometer tests or bone conduction test.

Causes and prevention of hearing loss in children

Several causes of hearing loss have been documented of which frequent ear infections are the commonest in children. Other causes like ear wax and traumatic perforation of ear drum by explosions may also lead to hearing loss. Hearing loss in infants may also be seen since birth, as a result of toxoplasmosis, herpes and rubella infection in mother which can be transmitted to baby via intrauterine route. Measles and mumps have also been known to cause hearing impairment. However the incidence of these infections has markedly reduced due to effective vaccination.

Hearing loss in children: Complications

The complications of hearing loss usually arise from underlying ailments. Hearing loss in itself may lead to difficulties in speech and language in small children.

Hearing loss in children: Treatment

The management of hearing loss depends upon the underlying ear ailment. Hearing loss due to ear infections may improve with antibiotic medications. Wax softeners like medicated ear drops or glycerine may be used in cases of hard wax obstructing the ear canal. Irrigation of ears with warm water may also help in removing ear wax and improving hearing. Small children should ideally be taken to a specialist for ear wax removal. It is advisable to consult a speech therapist also to manage the language and speech impairment, if present.