Children and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss in infants and young children can be challenging to diagnose and manage. Children with hearing loss:

  • Cannot use context to determine the meaning of what they may hear
  • Are unable to adjust their own hearing aids
  • Have no control over their listening environments
  • Are often thought to be inattentive or overly restless

At the Listen for Life Center at Virginia Mason, we understand the unique needs of hearing impaired children and their families. We are committed to providing your child comprehensive care in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere.

Hearing Screenings for Newborns

Every day in the United States, about 33 babies are born with some degree of permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss is, in fact, the number one birth defect in this country.

The Listen for Life Center championed universal hearing screening for newborns and is a regional referral center for newborn screening. If your baby has not had a hearing screening, call us at one of our Listen for Life Center locations to schedule a hearing screening.

With early identification, we are able to provide intervention before a child is six months old.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Children

Recurring ear infections are a common cause of hearing loss in children. Permanent hearing loss can result when fluid associated with infections remains in the ear and causes chronic changes to the eardrum and middle ear bones.

Other causes of hearing loss in children include:

  • Head injuries
  • Childhood diseases, such as measles, mumps and chicken pox
  • Meningitis and encephalitis
  • Influenza

Hearing Tests for Children

If you suspect your child may have problems hearing – or has speech or language delays – talk to your primary care doctor, who can refer you to one of our Listen for Life Center locations.

The results of testing and physical examinations determine the next steps for a child found to have hearing loss, which may be a hearing aid or other listen device, or a cochlear implant.

Hearing tests for children include:

  • Auditory brainstem response testing involves placing electrodes on a baby's head, and a tiny earphone in the ear. Sounds are played at various levels, and the brainstem's response helps determine what sounds are heard.
    For babies up to six months, this is done while the baby relaxed – sleeping or even nursing. Testing children over six months old is done within an operating room with sedation.
  • Visual reinforcement audiometry, for children six months to three years, is done in a soundproof room with a parent and pediatric audiologist present. Children wear headphones while they play with toys.

    When they hear a tone through the headphones, a little cartoon character flashes on a screen near them. Children quickly realize that characters only appear when a tone comes through their headphones, and only look up when they hear one.

    Another audiologist in the adjoining room observes through a glass window, administers various tones at different volumes and frequencies, and tracks the responses.

The otology surgeons at Virginia Mason will guide a medical evaluation to try to understand the cause of your child’s hearing loss. They are also able to correct structural problems of the ear canal, eardrum and hearing bones.