Hearing Loss | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is hearing loss diagnosed?

Screening for hearing loss is a staple of pediatric care. Babies born in U.S. hospitals are screened for hearing loss within their first month of life. Toddlers and children should continue to be screened for hearing loss at regular intervals through the age of 10, and more often if they show signs of hearing loss.

If your child shows signs of hearing loss, their doctor may refer them to an ear doctor, known as an audiologist, for further testing. The type of hearing test will depend on your child’s age.

How is conductive hearing loss treated?

Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary. Treatment depends on how it was caused. If a foreign object is blocking the ear, a clinician will take steps to remove it. Parents should be very careful not to push the object further into the ear with a Q-tip or other tool. If a clinician sees excessive ear wax in the ear canal, they may use a special tool to remove it. This only takes a few minutes.

Other possible treatments include:

  • Medication: Antibiotic or antifungal cream is often used to treat hearing loss caused by recurring ear infections.
  • Ear tubes: Small tubes are surgically placed in the child’s eardrum to drain fluid out of the middle ear and reduce the risk of ear infections.
  • Surgery: A clinician may recommend surgery to treat hearing loss caused by head trauma or a malformed ear or ear canal.

How is sensorineural hearing loss treated?

Sensorineural hearing loss is usually permanent. Because hearing is central to a child’s ability to develop language skills, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Early intervention helps children with hearing loss develop language skills using a combination of reading, speaking, lip reading, sign language and other tools. It can also teach parents skills to help them communicate with their child effectively.

Early intervention is most effective when started early. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that babies with hearing loss start receiving intervention services as soon as possible, no later than 6 months of age. The earlier a child with hearing loss starts learning speech, language and social skills, the better.

Hearing aids are electronic or battery-operated devices that amplify sound. For many children with mild or moderate hearing loss, a hearing aid can produce almost normal clarity of speech in a quiet room. Children with severe or profound hearing loss will be able to pick up some sounds through a hearing aid but typically need to combine lip-reading or sign language to understand speech and participate in conversations fully.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices that partially restore hearing for children with severe or profound hearing loss in both ears. Instead of transmitting sound through the ear like a hearing aid, a cochlear implant picks up sounds through a speech processor worn behind the ear and transmits it to a hearing device implanted in the inner ear. This helps children hear many sounds, including speech, but will not restore normal hearing. With consistent “listening” therapy and practice, children with cochlear implants can often learn to understand spoken language.