An estimated 360 million people across the world live with disabling hearing loss, and 32 million of these people are children. The World Health Organization (WHO), in their report titled “Childhood Hearing Loss: Act Now, Here’s How", has revealed that 60 percent of cases of pediatric hearing loss are caused by preventable factors, and outlines the ways individuals and organizations can help to reduce these factors. The report also focuses on the critical nature of the detection and treatment of hearing loss at the earliest possible age. Read on for more information about childhood hearing loss, and how parents, educators and health care professionals can help to prevent and treat it.
What are the primary causes of hearing loss in children?
Genetic factors: An estimated 40% of childhood hearing loss can be attributed to genetic causes. Around 75–80% of all these cases are inherited by recessive genes, and 20–25% are inherited by dominant genes. There are two main categories of genetic deafness, syndromic and non-syndromic. Syndromic deafness, which accounts for 30% of inherited deafness, occurs when there are other signs or medical problems aside from deafness in an individual. Non-syndromic deafness, which represents the majority of hereditary hearing loss, occurs when there are no other signs or medical problems associated with an individual other than deafness.
Infections: Childhood infections such as measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis are responsible for 31% of cases of childhood hearing loss. Meningitis and rubella together are responsible for over 19% of childhood hearing loss. Chronic ear infections can also cause permanent hearing damage.
Complications at birth: These include lack of oxygen, low birthweight, prematurity and jaundice, and account for 17% of childhood hearing loss. Maternal infections such as rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and toxoplasmosis can also cause a child to be born with severe hearing loss.
Ototoxic medicines: The use of medicines that are ototoxic (harmful to the ears) by pregnant women and children is responsible for 4% of childhood hearing loss. Sometimes medications that are known to be ototoxic are given to babies, usually to treat serious infections or birth complications. The most common include a family of antibiotics called aminoglycosides with names such as gentamycin, tobramycin, kanamycin and streptomycin. Although cancer is rare in infants and children, some chemotherapy drugs can harm the ears as well.
Noise-related hearing damage: A child’s or infant’s inner ears may be damaged if he or she is around extremely loud noises (such as fireworks or gunshots) for a short time, or around loud noises for long periods of time.
The importance of early detection & intervention
The WHO report stressed the necessity of better early detection and treatment of hearing loss, outlining the ways that interventions such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and communication therapies can dramatically improve the lives of children with hearing loss and their families. Hearing testing programmes for infants, pre-school and school-based children can help to initiate appropriate interventions and ensure that children in need of specialized care are able to communicate, learn, and achieve alongside their hearing peers. The WHO also noted the need for training programs for health professionals and educators about how to help and communicate with people with hearing loss.
The key elements in ensuring the best outcomes for children with hearing loss, as outlined in the WHO report are: early identification; appropriate hearing technology; professional support for communication, learning and education; and a family-centered approach.
How to prevent childhood hearing loss
As up to 60 percent of childhood hearing loss that occurs is preventable, strategic planning is needed to help reduce hearing loss and its adverse effects on children. Here are some things parents and communities can do to help protect children’s ears:
1. Get your children vaccinated. Vaccinating your child against dangerous infections such as bacterial meningitis, measles, mumps, and rubella is a key step in reducing the risk of early hearing loss. Vaccinating your child will also help to prevent the spread of these viruses to children who are unable to be vaccinated due to pre-existing health conditions.
2. Protect your children’s ears in loud environments and at home. The inner ears of children and babies are especially vulnerable to loud noises. At a loud event such as a concert, sports game or fireworks display, children’s ears should always be protected with earmuff-like hearing protectors. Keep earplugs on hand for older children. Many children’s toys emit sounds or music over 85 decibels, so keep your kids ears safe at home by testing their toys and removing the batteries (or reducing the volume with duct tape over a speaker) if necessary.
3. Invest in noise-limiting headphones for older kids and teens. Children and teenagers don’t always know when the volume is at an ear-damaging level. Giving them headphones with a pre-set noise limit are a smart way to ensure they’ll never inadvertently harm their hearing.
4. Model safe listening habits
. Parents and educators can help to reduce noise-induced hearing loss by instilling an awareness about the dangers of loud sounds in children at an early age. Some ways to model good hearing care and promote safe listening include using ear protection in noisy recreational contexts, turning down the television and music players when they are too loud, covering your ears when exposed to sudden loud sounds, and talking about the importance of listening to music at a safe volume.
5. Be careful with ototoxic medications. Always consult a doctor and weigh the benefits and risks before using ototoxic medications during pregnancy, or giving any medicine to an infant or child that could damage their ears. When the use of an ototoxic medication is unavoidable, regular audiological monitoring will help identify hearing loss at an early stage.
6. Use healthy ear care practices. Taking good care of your children’s ears can help to reduce the risk of hearing loss. Avoid inserting any substance or object (such as a cotton bud) into a child’s ears, and do not attempt to treat ear infections or ear pain with home remedies. Consulting a medical professional can help to prevent chronic ear infections and the associated hearing loss.
7. Better maternal care. The World Health Organization would like to see maternal and child health programs strengthened worldwide, to reduce the risk of low birthweight, prematurity, neonatal jaundice, and other infections leading to childhood hearing loss. Recommended programs would raise awareness of: good prenatal nutrition, hygienic practices, safe birth and prompt management of neonatal infections and jaundice.
At Arizona Balance and Hearing Aids, we are proud to provide hearing health care for the whole family. Schedule a hearing test and consultation with us today.