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Hearing Problems in Childhood

Hearing problems in children can be due to many different reasons. For example, the ear canal may be blocked by too much ear wax or by a small foreign object or it may be that an ear infection is causing the trouble. About one in 1,000 babies is born with a serious hearing problem (i.e. deafness or profound hearing loss) and another one in 1,000 children develops a serious hearing problem before they are 6 years old. Profound hearing loss at birth may be caused by the rubella virus , lack of oxygen or an injury during birth , certain drugs given to the mother during pregnancy, haemolytic disease of the foetus, infections ( viruses / bacteria ), or hereditary diseases .

Certain risk factors increase a baby's chance for being born with serious hearing loss. These include:

  • Other family members were born with hearing problems.
  • Exposure to a serious infection before birth, especially toxoplasmosis , syphilis , rubella , herpes or cytomegalovirus .
  • Born with Down syndrome or certain other genetic problems .
  • Being exposed to medicines that can damage the ear before birth (cf. teratogens ), especially if the pregnant mother took antibiotics from the aminoglycoside family (like gentamicin or streptomycin) or quinine.
  • Being exposed to radiation before birth.

Following birth, loss of hearing can appear for other reasons. Babies who weigh less than 1,500 grams (3.3 lbs) are especially at risk. So are babies who need to spend more than 10 days on a mechanical ventilator after birth. High levels of the blood chemical bilirubin in newborns can also lead to hearing loss. An Apgar score of 3 or below at birth can also indicate a potential hearing problem.

Later in the child's life, many other types of illnesses, injuries and toxins (poisons) can cause hearing loss, including measles or mumps infection; meningitis ; ear infection (especially otitis media ); side effects of medicines (especially certain antibiotics); head injury; or exposure to very loud noise levels.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends regular hearing screening at each visit and a more formal test between 3 or 4 years of age. This screening is usually done using audiometry, a painless test where the child listens to sound tones through special earphones.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1., Children's Health Section:

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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002