Children, like adults, can have hearing loss caused by problems in any part of the ear. Even mild hearing loss in children requires attention and intervention to reduce the impact on speech and language development and education.
Problems in the external ear canal can include ear wax, “swimmers ear” (an infection in the ear canal), and eardrum perforation due to injury or resulting from a middle ear infection. In rare cases, a child’s ear canal never fully develops before birth; a condition that is called atresia.
Problems in the middle ear can include otitis media (middle ear fluid) or abnormalities with the bones that conduct the sound to the inner ear. Middle ear fluid (Glue ear) is very common in young children and can cause mild to moderate hearing loss that comes and goes. It can usually be treated medically or with insertion of ventilation tubes into the eardrums.
Problems in the inner ear can be present at birth or acquired as a result of illness or injury to the very delicate inner ear structures. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be corrected with medicine or surgery, although there are several surgically-implantable devices that can help some children who cannot benefit from conventional hearing aids.
Knowing early that a child has a hearing loss and providing early treatment is critical to successful development of language. For children who do not get enough benefit from hearing aids to develop oral language and where learning to listen and speak is the goal, a cochlear implant may be an option.