Hearing is more than a communication skill; it is a precious sense that helps us bond with others, share emotions, and comprehend our surroundings. Hearing also protects us by alerting us to potential threats or hazards.
When a child loses their hearing, either partially or completely, there are multiple ways to treat it. Hearing aids are the most common treatment option for hearing loss, but they may not be effective for your child’s specific needs. Fortunately, there are several kid-friendly hearing aid alternatives that can improve your child’s hearing and overall quality of life.
Speech/Listening Training & Communication Tools
Hearing loss can cause a child to feel disconnected from their surroundings. It can make communication hard for some children, and they may need to use other ways to listen and speak. There are many devices, programs, and tools that can assist children with speech or hearing challenges. Hearing aid alternatives and services that can help enhance speech, listening, and communication may include:
- Sign language uses hand shapes, movements, facial expressions, and body posture to convey meaning. Children who learn sign language early can use it to communicate clearly. Adults often learn sign language to effectively communicate with their hearing-impaired children.
- Speech recognition is a tool that transcribes voice commands to assist with multiple functions, such as dictation, transcription, or translation. It allows children to read and write better and improve literacy skills.
- Text-to-speech is technology that synthesizes human speech from text or data through a computer. Text-to-speech can be used for reading aloud, narration, education, entertainment, or accessibility purposes.
These hearing aid alternatives can make a difference in the lives of children to communicate better with themselves and others.
Children with hearing loss can use hearing aid alternatives called hearing assistive devices to communicate better in different situations, such as at home or school. Closed captioning shows the words and sounds of a video or audio source as text on a screen, allowing the child to follow along with the content and enjoy it more fully.
Closed captioning is not the only type of hearing assistive device available. Hearing loop, frequency-modulated (FM), and infrared systems amplify the sound from a source and transmit it to a receiver worn by the user. These kinds of systems lower environmental noises and make the sound quality better for children who use hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Children who struggle with hearing loss or communication can use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which vary from simple picture boards to complex computer programs that can turn text into speech. AACs are a viable hearing aid alternative that can help children communicate in person or by telephone.
Bone-Anchored Hearing Aids
Bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHAs) are a good option as a hearing aid alternative for children who have conductive or mixed hearing loss, or single-sided deafness. A BAHA can improve hearing for children who are unable to wear conventional hearing aids.
BAHAs work by using a titanium implant to transmit sound vibrations directly to the inner ear. Sound quality and clarity improve significantly for children with certain types of hearing loss. The BAHA system consists of three parts:
- Surgically placed titanium implant in the skull behind the ear
- External sound processor that attaches to the implant with a magnet or a snap
- Abutment that connects the implant and the sound processor
The sound processor picks up sound waves from the environment and converts them into vibrations that are transferred to the implant. The implant then transmits the vibrations to the inner ear through the skull bone, where they are perceived as sound.
BAHAs have several advantages over conventional hearing aids:
- Provide better sound quality, especially in noisy environments, by reducing feedback and distortion
- Reduce the risk of ear infections and irritation by avoiding occlusion of the ear canal
- Offer a more natural and balanced sound perception for children with single-sided deafness by stimulating both ears through bone conduction
BAHAs are not without drawbacks, however. They require surgery to implant the titanium screw, which carries risks such as infection, bleeding, or damage to the facial nerve. They also require regular cleaning and maintenance of the abutment and the sound processor. Still, it is a good hearing aid alternative for children who meet the criteria for being a good candidate.
Children who are profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing can get a sense of sound from a device called a cochlear implant. This hearing aid alternative has two components — an external and an internal processor. The external processor detects sounds from the surroundings and changes them into electrical signals. The internal processor transmits these signals to the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain. The brain then interprets these signals as sound.
Cochlear implants are usually recommended for children who have profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and do not benefit from hearing aids. The evaluation to determine whether your child would benefit from this type of implant is extensive.
Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physicians can evaluate your child’s hearing condition and determine if they are a good candidate for this type of hearing aid alternative. They can also explain the benefits and limitations of cochlear implants and help you make an informed decision. Surgery is required for placement of a cochlear implant.
Cochlear implants can offer many benefits for children with severe hearing loss. They can help them to hear sounds that they could not hear before, such as speech, music, and environmental noises. They can also improve their communication, socialization, education, and quality of life. However, they require ongoing care and support from professionals, parents, teachers, and peers. Cochlear implants are also not without risks or limitations. They involve surgery, which may have complications or side effects. They may also interfere with other devices or activities, such as MRI scans or swimming.
Get Help from the Surgeons at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama
If your child has a problem with their hearing, you’ll want a team of experts who can diagnose and treat your child’s condition with compassion and skill. Pediatric ENT Associates of Children’s of Alabama has exactly what you need to ensure you feel comfortable with the care your child receives.
Our team of board-certified otolaryngologists specializes in treating children with a variety of ear, nose, and throat disorders using the latest technology and treatments available. Our experts are dedicated to providing your child with effective hearing loss treatments that can help address their unique challenges. Contact us today to schedule a new patient appointment and learn more about how our team can help.