All newborns are now screened for deafness before leaving the maternity ward. But some hearing impairments can develop over time, including compromising language access. Therefore, parents need to learn the symptoms and get timely help to have a shot at everyday life.
1 in 1000 children is born with severe to profound bilateral deafness. This prevalence reaches 2.5 per 1000, including all degrees of deafness (mild, moderate, powerful, and profound) and even 4 per 1000 when counting unilateral deafness.
Until recently, the average age of diagnosis was between 18 and 24 months. Finding hearing care specialist for your child at 12 months, or even sometimes earlier, considerably facilitates language acquisition.
Currently, all babies benefit from a hearing test called Auditory evoked potential (AEP) while they are still in the maternity ward. Performed by a midwife or a childcare assistant, this test is painless and lasts about ten minutes.
It consists of putting small headphones/sensors in the infant’s ears while a third sensor is placed at the top of his head. The device then emits a sound stimulation of 35 decibels. This very low sound level makes it possible to detect even mild hearing impairments.
If the result suggests a hearing impairment, wait 2-3 months and contact an ENT care center for a more in-depth assessment. “False positives” are indeed possible in toddlers. This is why 5% of babies are referred to an Expert Hearing Center after a first hearing test. But not all are diagnosed with hearing loss after additional examinations performed in Expert Hearing Centers.
Serious ear infections often involved
But children may slip through the mesh and do not do the in-depth assessment requested after a questionable result in the test performed in the maternity hospital. It’s rare, but it can also happen that the Auditory evoked potential (AEP) is entirely satisfactory and that a hearing loss does not set in until a few months or even a few years later.
These hearing impairments can then be permanent when they are of genetic origin or follow contamination by cytomegalovirus (herpes virus family, which includes herpes, chickenpox, or shingles) at birth.
They can also be transient – and luckily, this is much more common – when they are caused by a buildup of fluid in the middle ear (otitis media). In all cases, we must be able to detect them as early as possible.
The tell-tale signs
If a child does not jump, does not turn around when an object falls. When a door slams, this is not normal. It can be a sign of hearing problems. Another characteristic of children with hearing problems is that they often sleep a lot. Kept in the community, they never seem bothered by the noises of other children.
Of course, even added together, these points are not enough to make a diagnosis. But they justify advising parents to talk to their pediatrician, who will probably refer them to an ENT for an in-depth assessment.
Other warning signs can help perceive that your child does not hear well:
- The baby makes less sound
- He/she does not react or wakes up if there is a loud noise
- He/she doesn’t turn his head in the direction of your voice
- He/she doesn’t respond when you speak
Screening for hearing problems
Hearing loss can be suspected during the child’s medical check-up, especially at two or by hearing tests carried out during school health monitoring.
Speech and behavior disorders in the child leading to fear of deafness
The appearance of speech and behavior disorders should alert you at any age and show you to consult your pediatrician. Indeed, deafness, whether congenital or acquired (chronic serous otitis, for example), hinders speech acquisition and causes behavioral disorders.
From 3 to 12 months
- The sounds made by your child are not harmonious
- Your child does not babble
- He/she does not respond when you call hi
12 to 24 months
- Your child doesn’t say a word
- He/she communicates with gestures
- He/she is inattentive to what is not in his/her visual field
- It emits unknown and uncontrolled sounds.
24 to 36 months
- Your child does not speak.
- He/she isolates himself or, on the contrary, he is agitated.
After three years
- Your child does not speak or speaks incomprehensible
- He/she suffers from behavioral disorders (agitation, isolation, aggressiveness)
- He/she has learning difficulties at school
When to consult a pediatrician or doctor
- If your child is vocally regressing
- If he/she doesn’t articulate.
- If his/her behavior changes: he becomes aggressive and afraid, especially at night.
Hearing helps a child with his or her speech and language development, and that’s perhaps the most important thing parents should know. You must start treating your baby before she turns six months old if she has hearing loss.
It helps to develop language, speech, and social skills that can help them succeed in school. Treatments may include hearing aids, ear tubes, cochlear implants, and speech therapy.