Good hearing is vitally important to a child’s speech and language development. Even a short period of time during which they have temporary hearing loss can have an impact on how they learn to speak. Therefore, it’s very important to be aware of any change in a child’s hearing and take immediate steps to provide whatever support and therapy is available for the condition.
Acquired Hearing Loss
Some children are born with normal hearing, but develop a hearing loss after birth. This can be the result of an injury, a disease, or some other condition.
Repeated ear infections can damage parts of one or both ears. Even if they don’t cause permanent damage, however, they can have an effect on a child’s speech and language development. An ear infection can cause temporary hearing loss during critical learning periods, so that the child doesn’t hear language cues he needs to hear to learn to speak properly.
Some medications can damage hearing. These ototoxic medications include some antibiotics, some ear drops when the ear drum is perforated, some chemotherapy drugs, aspirin, and quinine. In some cases using these medications and risking hearing damage is the best option, but you still need to be aware of the potential side effects of any medication you give your child.
Another cause of acquired hearing loss is meningitis. Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain that can be caused by many things. Patients with viral meningitis can have a long recovery time; children with bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but early diagnosis is important so treatment can begin quickly. Hearing loss is the most common long-term effect of meningitis, and usually is caused by damage to the cochlea. This damage usually occurs during the first couple of days of the illness, which is why early diagnosis and treatment is so important.
Measles is caused by a virus. A child with measles may have a cough, a rash, fever, runny nose and watery eyes. This is a highly contagious disease that may result in pneumonia, an ear infection with associated hearing loss, and, at its most severe, death. Because it’s a virus, antibiotics are useless against measles, and in fact may open the door to more serious secondary infections.
It’s pretty difficult for a parent to tell the difference between encephalitis and meningitis because they look a lot alike. Both are brain inflammations, and both have hearing loss as a possible outcome. Most cases are viral, and experts suspect that many cases go unreported because they are so mild.
Chicken pox is a herpes virus; once you’ve had it, you most probably won’t get it again. You may start out feeling like you’re coming down with a cold, but then you’ll get itchy red spots that turn into blisters. Chicken pox generally is mild in younger children, but older children and teenagers may suffer from more severe symptoms, including chest pain, coughing up blood, vomiting, painful headaches, and hearing loss.
Mumps is another viral disease that’s not nearly as common today as it was before experts developed a vaccine for it. Most cases of hearing loss associated with the mumps resolve themselves, but in rare cases there’s damage to the cochlea that results in permanent hearing loss.
Sometimes a head injury can cause hearing impairment or tinnitus, which also affects a person’s ability to hear. If a head injury is severe enough to cause hearing loss, the injury probably is severe enough to cause other problems as well.
Loud noise can damage the hair cells, which are the tiny sensory cells that receive sound and convert it into electrical signals that our brains then interpret and understand. Once those hair cells are damaged, they don’t recover. In addition, loud noises can damage the auditory nerve. The types of noises that can damage our hearing can range from “impulse” sounds such as firecrackers and gun fire, to sustained loud noise such as that from heavy equipment or power tools.