Everyone wants their children to hear normally. The first hearing test is conducted at birth as part of the newborn’s checkup in the hospital and gives the first indication of normal or impaired hearing. However, it’s still possible that hearing problems could develop in the months and years after the initial screening. If hearing tests are not conducted, then hearing loss may go undetected for long periods of time affecting language and speech development. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss in infants and young children and when a child’s hearing should be tested.
Hearing loss may be noticed as a child reaches the age where he or she begins to respond to sound. From birth to age six months, infants and babies begin to recognize sounds and words that help them to develop their own language skills. They begin to copy sounds in order to form speech. If your child is slow to respond to verbal cues or has problems with normal development of speech that includes the first babbling and sound making, you should have your child’s hearing checked. During the time when speech begins to develop, you may notice other signs if your child has a hearing problem. They could include:
- Failure to hear loud noises
- Failure to react to sounds like voices, music and loud noises
- Doesn’t say single words by one year of age
- Doesn’t respond to his or her name being spoken
You should also have a hearing test for your child if the following has occurred:
- Born prematurely
- Received treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for longer than five days
- Had jaundice
- Had a blood transfusion
- Had a neonatal infection
- The mother had an infection or meningitis during pregnancy
- There is a family history of hearing loss, especially in children
Types of hearing tests for children
There are hearing tests for children of any age, including infants. Two types of audiology tests are most commonly used for the youngest children and both are painless. They are:
- Auditory brainstem response test: In this test tiny earphones are placed on the baby’s ears while he or she is sleeping. Electrodes are placed on the baby’s head. Sounds are played through the earphones and the electrodes record brain activity that occurs in the response to sound. A computer interprets the data collected by the electrodes.
- Otoacoustic emissions test: For this test tiny microphones are placed in the ear to measure sounds naturally emitted by the inner ear. When sounds hit the cochlea in the inner ear it emits signals. As these signals are released the microphones pick them up and measure them. In children who cannot hear, no emissions are released. This type of hearing test can determine if certain conditions are causing hearing loss:
- A blockage in the ear canal
- Fluid in the middle ear
- Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain
Other hearing tests for children include the use of a tuning fork. The fork vibrates and is placed on different parts of the skull. The child is asked to describe the volume of the sound he or she hears from the fork.
Audiometry is conducted by an audiologist and measures hearing from the lowest to the highest pitches. The child being tested wears a set of headphones and reacts to tones at various levels. It may be accompanied by a test in which the audiologist reads a series of words through the headphones at various levels of softness and loudness. This is called speech audiometry and determines if the child can detect the difference between words. Hearing is measured in decibels and can measure hearing loss from slight to complete deafness.
Tympanometry checks the condition of the eardrum. It is commonly used to check the function of the middle ear and check for damage from ear infections. During this test a small probe is placed into the ear canal and light pressure is applied to the eardrum. The test measures the movement of the ear drum in response to the pressure. A readout tells the doctor if the eardrum is too stiff to respond to sound or if there is fluid in the middle ear. It can also detect other deformities of the eardrum and conditions that may impair hearing.
If you notice any signs or symptoms that your child’s hearing may be impaired, don’t hesitate to ask for a hearing test. They are painless and can lead to treatments that successfully enhance hearing.