Clinical Audiologist MSc Audiology MISHAA, ISA
The newborn hearing screening program in Ireland has screened 522,327 babies from 2011 to 2020 and has identified a prevalence of hearing loss in Ireland as 1.66 in 1,000 births.
Early identification and intervention of childhood hearing loss improve the long-term outcomes for children.
We know that ‘mild’ hearing loss is not identified by the newborn screen. There is also late-onset hearing loss, acquired hearing loss and temporary hearing loss that occur in childhood. It is suspected that the incidence of childhood hearing loss doubles by the age of nine.
Affecting everyday abilities
Mr Tony O’Connor, ENT Consultant at Crescent ENT & Audiology, Galway, reminds us that “The most common cause of temporary childhood hearing loss is otitis media with effusion (OME, also known as ‘glue ear’).”
“Although typically temporary, mild to moderate hearing impairment related to OME will have occurred in up to 80% of children by the time they are eight years of age. In cases of persistent OME, the insertion of ear grommets — with or without adenoidectomy — provides immediate restoration of normal hearing levels in these children.”
The burden of untreated and unidentified hearing loss can present in a child’s speech and language and communication skills, in their academic ability, behaviour issues and social and emotional wellbeing.
It is suspected that the incidence of childhood hearing loss doubles by the age of nine.
Testing a child’s hearing
Assessing a child’s hearing can be challenging. In addition to our standard audiometry at Hearing Solutions, visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) allows us to assess hearing in infants and toddlers.
Fortunately, advances in technologies mean we can consider objective hearing tests for children who cannot reliably respond on their own during a behavioural hearing test. Such tests that we perform include otoacoustic emissions (OAE), auditory brainstem response (ABR), auditory steady state responses (ASSR) and cortical evoked potentials audiometry (CERA).
Mild hearing loss
Possible hearing loss should be considered for a child who experiences attention, social or school performance difficulties. One-third of children with even mild hearing loss perform worse at school than children with normal hearing.
For some children, the level of disability may be greater than the severity of the hearing loss. The relevance of slight to mild hearing loss should be acknowledged, particularly in cases of unilateral (one-sided) hearing loss or children with mild, high-frequency hearing loss.