Hearing Loss in Children

What is hearing loss? 

About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children have hearing loss in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral) at birth. Early detection and management of hearing loss are very important, and will help a child stay on track with developmental milestones.

The hearing and listening parts of the brain depend on consistent access to sounds and voices in the environment in order for a child to best develop speech and language, learn, and socialize. Hearing loss can be caused by conditions that affect any part of the ear and can interrupt or limit the brain’s access to sound and ability to understand speech. Learn more about how we hear.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss

You might be concerned that your child has a hearing loss if he or she:

  • Does not respond to sounds and voices — or stops responding consistently
  • Is not meeting age- appropriate speech and language milestones
  • Has frequent middle ear infections and/or middle ear fluid
  • Turns up the volume of music or television
  • Says “what?” a lot and needs information or requests repeated

Possible causes of hearing loss (present at birth or acquired)

  • Family history of permanent childhood hearing loss
  • Genetic syndrome associated with hearing loss 
  • Anatomic differences in development of part(s) of the ear
  • Craniofacial abnormality
  • Infections at or before birth, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Hyperbilirubinemia
  • Hypoxic events (brain does not receive enough oxygen)
  • History of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy
  • History of ototoxic medications
  • Conditions requiring a neonatal intensive care stay of greater than five days
  • Head trauma or Meningitis
  • Exposure to loud sounds — especially through earphones
  • Diseases of the middle or inner ear

Types of hearing loss

Conductive – hearing problem caused by condition affecting the outer and/or middle ear. This type of hearing loss is more likely to respond to medical or surgical treatment and may be temporary or permanent.

Sensorineural – hearing problem caused by condition affecting the inner ear. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.

Mixed – hearing problem caused by a condition affecting both the outer and/or middle ear and the inner ear

Testing for hearing loss

At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, audiologists conduct comprehensive hearing evaluations for children from birth until early adulthood. Learn more about each of the hearing tests your child may receive and what to expect at your appointment.

Treatment for hearing loss

If a hearing loss is diagnosed, a multidisciplinary team that includes audiologists, speech-language pathologists, family wellness specialists and otolaryngologists is engaged to help connect each child and family with appropriate resources, intervention services, and ongoing follow-up care.

Learn more about how our team can help support your child's development.

Some children who are diagnosed with hearing loss benefit from being fit with a hearing device (such as a hearing aid, bone conduction hearing device or cochlear implant). Learn more about hearing devices for children with hearing loss.