Hearing loss poses a challenge for growing children, but it does not have to prevent your child from reaching the same milestones as other children their age. Hearing problems can be overcome if they’re caught and addressed early.

A thorough assessment and evaluation by an otolaryngologist can determine which treatment path is best for your child, and we are happy to accompany you every step of the way. Pediatric ENT Associates (PENTA) at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham specializes in diagnosing and treating a full range of pediatric ear conditions. If your child has hearing problems, our ENT specialists will work together with audiologists and speech therapists to provide your child the comprehensive care they need.

Pediatric ENT doctor checking the ear of a patient experiencing hearing loss in Birmingham

Does My Child Have Hearing Loss?

Even if your child passed the newborn screening at birth, hearing loss that is genetic or progressive might not appear until they are older, so you’ll need to watch out for signs that suggest your child has hearing loss as they grow. The Hearing Health Foundation recommends identifying and using the following milestones as a guideline:

Hearing Milestones During the First Year

  • By three months – Your baby gets startled by sudden, loud noises, recognizes parents’ voices, and makes cooing sounds.
  • By six months – Your baby recognizes familiar voices and speech sounds, laughs, plays with their voice, and turns their head towards exciting sounds. They can use their voice to indicate pleasure and discomfort and begin to have speechlike conversations with parents and other caregivers.
  • By nine months – Your baby understands words like “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “bye-bye,” “no,” and responds to their name.
  • By ten months – Your baby’s babbling resembles speech with strings of single syllables (“da-da-da-da”).
  • By 12 months – Your baby has more recognizable spoken words.

Hearing Milestones During the Toddler Years

  • By 18 months – Your toddler should understand simple phrases, be able to retrieve familiar objects and point to body parts on command (without gestures). Your toddler’s spoken vocabulary should have 20-50 words, and short phrases (e.g., “all done,” “go out,” “Mommy up”) and is learning new words every week.
  • By 24 months – Your toddler’s spoken vocabulary should have 200-300 words, and simple sentences can be spoken. Adults who do not spend time with your child daily can understand their speech, and your child should be able to sit and listen while being read to.

Here are some things to look for if you think your toddler or preschool-age child might have hearing loss:

  • Shows inconsistent hearing abilities – sometimes your child seems to hear OK and then does not respond at other times
  • Sits close to the TV or turns up the volume
  • Says “what?” or “huh?” often
  • Speaks differently than other kids their age
  • Teachers or daycare workers say they do not respond in the classroom
  • Does not reply or pay attention when you call their name
  • Speaks louder than before
  • Has problems articulating needs/wants
  • Complains of earache or noises
  • Watches you intently while you speak

Why Does My Child Have Hearing Loss?

Many factors can lead to your child’s hearing loss. When a baby is born with it, it is called congenital hearing loss. Hearing loss that occurs later on is called acquired hearing loss.

Parents can carry the gene and pass along hearing loss to their children, while non-genetic causes are typically related to illness, trauma, or abnormalities developed before or during birth. Maternal diabetes, premature birth, and infection while being pregnant are some examples.

Acquired hearing loss can occur at any time in a person’s life. Examples of causes include:

  • Frequent ear infections
  • Medications that damage the auditory system
  • Serious head trauma
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Meningitis, encephalitis, chickenpox, and measles
  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Long exposure to loud noises

hearing loss specialist with child discussing hearing loss treatment options in Birmingham, Alabama What Are My Treatment Options?

Medical treatments and surgery can help children with certain types of hearing loss. For instance, if there is fluid behind the eardrum, an ENT specialist may recommend draining the fluid through ventilating tubes that we surgically insert through the eardrum. This can help decrease your child’s risk of frequent infections and also improve their hearing.

There are many tools available in Birmingham, AL, that can help your child hear. Your child’s type of hearing loss will determine which tools will work best. For mild to moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid can work well in restoring hearing to normal or near-normal levels. A hearing aid will not restore hearing entirely for those with more significant hearing loss but can still help your child develop oral language.

For severe to profound hearing loss, or when hearing aids don’t help, your child may benefit from a cochlear implant, a sophisticated electronic device that we implant into the cochlea to stimulate hearing.

In conjunction with these tools, a combination of speech therapy with assistive listening devices may be a recommended form of treatment for hearing loss in children.

stock image of a family of a child with hearing loss in Birmingham Helping Your Child Thrive with Hearing Loss

Children with hearing loss can thrive when their families and other caregivers understand the impact of hearing loss on learning and communicating and create a supportive and loving environment where they can build more self-confidence and learn to become independent.

How to Help Your Child Communicate Effectively

Parents, teachers, and healthcare providers need to work together to help your child understand their hearing loss. They must help develop the best strategies that will cater to your child’s needs.

  • Create a good listening environment – When communicating with your child, move him or her away from other noises (e.g., TV, stereo, dishwasher) before speaking. Your child should also always have a clear view of the person speaking.
  • Encourage your child to pay attention – Try calling their name, using a hand signal, flicking the lights, or tapping their shoulder before talking. If your child does not understand something, try using different words instead of repeating the same sentence. Ask your child questions to help engage them in learning.
  • Help your child learn language – Use hands-on activities (e.g., Legos and play house) as a tool for learning. Use activities such as shopping or going for a walk to teach words and to talk about things as they happen (e.g., what your child is seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling).

No parent can predict what their child will become in the future or what they will do with their life when they’re older. Show support by allowing your child to forge their path to have a bright future and become who they want to be. What matters most is focusing on supporting your child to reach their fullest potential when it comes to expectations.

Being involved in your child’s life is the best thing you can do to help them succeed. This means being able to speak up for your child since you know what’s best for them. If something isn’t working, let your care team know about it. Your group should be able to support you in achieving the goals you’ve set. Never be afraid to ask questions, seek help, and fight for your child’s needs.

Schedule a Hearing Evaluation With an Otolaryngologist Today

If you suspect your child has hearing problems, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with an ENT specialist to have them evaluated. It is vital to detect these hearing difficulties as early as possible, so your child doesn’t miss out on any speech and language development milestones. Contact Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama to schedule a consultation with an otolaryngologist and to learn about our hearing loss treatment options.