Hearing Loss in Children – The Importance of Early Testing

Lynn Martelli
Lynn Martelli

Hearing loss at any age can have a big impact on a person’s life, but hearing loss in early childhood can have significant impacts on a child’s development if not detected and addressed early on. Hearing tests for newborns and periodic screening for older children are crucial for identifying any problems and intervening as soon as possible.

Newborn Hearing Screening

In the UK, newborn hearing screening is offered universally as part of the NHS Newborn Hearing Screening Programme. The test, which uses either otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) or auditory brainstem response (ABR), aims to identify moderate, severe, or profound deafness present at birth. If a baby does not pass the newborn screening, they will be referred for further tests.

Early detection allows for early intervention such as hearing aids and speech therapy, which are critical for developing communication skills. Studies show that if hearing loss is identified by six months of age, the child will have significantly better language outcomes compared to later identification.

Pre-School and School-Age Screening

After the initial screenings for newborns, ongoing periodic hearing tests are recommended as children get older. While adults can visit a private clinic for a hearing test in Bangor Northern Ireland, children can be tested for hearing loss on the NHS.

Parents are asked about problems with their child’s hearing as part of development reviews from 9 months to 2.5 years. Preschool screening for some children typically takes place around ages 4-5, when children are better able to respond to pure tone screening audiometry. Older children may have a hearing test if there are indications of hearing problems.

Screening aims to identify children with hearing impairment from illness, injury, noise exposure, or other causes that can develop later in childhood. Hearing tests are offered if a parent or carer has concerns. Children who do not pass these screenings can then receive full diagnostic audiological evaluations.

Benefits of Early Identification

Identifying hearing loss early in life and providing appropriate interventions has significant benefits for the child’s development. Children with hearing loss often experience speech and language delays if their needs are not addressed early. However, if it is identified in infancy, hearing loss can be managed through hearing aids and speech therapy so that language development stays on track.

Early intervention limits the negative impacts of hearing loss on the child’s academic achievement, speech development, and social skills. Diagnosing hearing impairments early also allows for identifying and addressing any related health issues or developmental delays.

What Parents Can Do

While routine screening is in place, parents still play an important role monitoring their child’s hearing health and development.

Raise any concerns you have with your child’s GP and ensure your child receives all recommended hearing tests. Look out for possible signs of hearing loss, such as lack of response to noise or speech, delay in speech development, and difficulties following directions.

Advocate for your child to receive needed support services. Keep regular appointments with your child’s audiologist for follow-up testing.

By working together with your child’s healthcare providers, hearing loss can be identified early, giving your child the best chance of developing to their full potential.

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