Three ear conditions that might cause hearing loss in children

Ideally, your child’s hearing should be assessed at birth, one year, three years, and five years of age. An audiologist should perform this hearing test. Picture: Pixnio

Ideally, your child’s hearing should be assessed at birth, one year, three years, and five years of age. An audiologist should perform this hearing test. Picture: Pixnio

Published Aug 17, 2023


If you just learned that your infant or toddler has hearing loss, you probably have a lot of questions and worries.

Although feeling overburdened and stressed is common, you should know that there are numerous therapeutic and accommodation choices, both at home and at school.

Children's hearing loss may be congenitally present at birth or may appear later in childhood (acquired), according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Congenital hearing loss can be inherited (genetic) or brought on by illnesses contracted during pregnancy, such as rubella or the cytomegalovirus.

Infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are more likely to experience hearing loss, which can either be a stand-alone disorder or a symptom of a syndrome that manifests other symptoms.

In rare circumstances, genetic testing can assist in identifying the source of hearing loss. Infectious conditions like meningitis or chronic ear infections, as well as trauma and specific drugs, can all contribute to acquired hearing loss.

Each of the three components of the ear has a specific function. Sound is gathered by the outer ear and sent to the middle ear. Vibrations are created from sound there.

These vibrations proceed to the inner ear, where the hearing nerve and microscopic “hair cells” (cilia) convert the vibrations into nerve impulses.

The brain receives these impulses. Following that, the brain determines which ear the sound is originating from. With hearing loss, sound cannot be heard or understood due to a brief (temporary) blockage or a long-term (permanent) issue in the ear or brain.

According to statistics from Healthy Hearing, a child may be identified as having hearing loss if they are unable to hear noises at a specific volume in either one ear (known as unilateral hearing loss) or both ears (known as bilateral hearing loss), depending on the findings of the hearing test.

The lowest threshold is often between 15 and 20 decibels (dB), or roughly the volume of whispering or the sound of leaves rustling.

Even though it would be regarded a little hearing loss to be unable to hear the rustling of leaves, it will be more difficult to grasp some speech patterns. Treating hearing loss in children is crucial because they begin acquiring language as soon as they are born.

But that’s just the beginning. Some children will have hearing loss that ranges from mild (they can’t hear sounds below 25 dB to 40 dB) to moderate (41 dB to 60 dB) to severe (61 dB to 80 dB) to profound (81 dB and above).

Deep deafness is characterised by being unable to hear almost all noises, according to a study.

Research demonstrates that profound deafness is the inability to hear almost all noises. There are three basic categories of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss, according to the Association for Hearing Loss Accessibility & Development of South Africa.

Conductive hearing loss

According to ENT Health, conductive hearing loss happens when the cochlea, the hearing portion of the inner ear, is not receiving sound energy properly.

Blockage of the ear canal, a hole in the ear drum, issues with the three tiny bones in the ear, or fluid in the area between the eardrum and the cochlea are common causes of conductive hearing loss. Fortunately, conductive hearing loss is usually treatable.

Depending on the precise cause and severity, the following symptoms of conductive hearing loss may also exist or be linked to one another: muffled hearing, sudden or gradual loss of hearing, fullness or a “stuffy” sensation in the ear, dizziness, ear drainage, and pain or soreness in the ear.

Sensorineural hearing loss

According to Healthline, harm to the inner ear structures or auditory nerve can result in sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). More than 90% of adult hearing loss is brought on by it. Loud noise exposure, inherited traits, or ageing naturally are common causes of SNHL.

Stereocilia are microscopic hairs found in the cochlea, an organ that spirals inside the inner ear. Your auditory nerve sends neural messages to your brain through these hairs, which then transform sound wave vibrations into neural signals.

These hairs can be harmed by exposure to sounds louder than 85 dB. However, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) warns that you might not notice hearing loss until 30% to 50% of these hairs are harmed.

From inside a car, 85 dB is about similar to loud traffic noise. Depending on the extent of the damage, SNHL can range from minor hearing loss to total loss of hearing. Hearing loss can be classified as mild (a loss of hearing between 26 and 40 dB), moderate (a loss of hearing between 41 and 55 dB), or severe (a loss of hearing over 71 dB).

Although SNHL is not a life-threatening disorder, if it is not treated appropriately it might affect your ability to speak.

Depending on the aetiology, SNHL may affect one or both ears. According to ENT Health, if your SNHL develops gradually, your symptoms might not be noticeable without a hearing test.

The symptoms of abrupt SNHL will appear over the course of a few days. Many patients experience acute SNHL for the first time right after waking up, according to studies.

According to WebMD, sensorineural hearing loss can cause the following symptoms: difficulty hearing sounds when there is background noise; difficulty understanding children's and women's voices in particular; dizziness or balance issues; difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds; a sense that you can hear voices but cannot understand them; and tinnitus (ear ringing).

Mixed hearing loss

A conductive hearing loss can occasionally occur simultaneously with a sensorineural hearing loss.

This indicates that there could be harm to the inner ear or the nerve supply to the brain, as well as to the outer or middle ear. This hearing loss is mixed.

A mixed hearing loss can result from anything that causes conductive hearing loss or SNHL. An illustration would be if you work in an environment with loud noises and you have fluid in your middle ear. Your hearing could get worse from the two issues combined than it would be from just one.

It is crucial to speak to a qualified paediatric audiologist if you believe your child may have a hearing loss and exhibits symptoms like trouble following conversations in noisy settings, difficulty hearing better on TV when the volume is increased, the sensation that everyone around you is mumbling, or ringing in the ears.