Hearing is a critical component of a child’s social, cognitive, and emotional development. These problems in children can delay their development in crucial areas. There can be various causes of hearing impairment. Ear infections, congenital birth defects, and acquired causes, such as exposure to loud noises, all can cause hearing problems in children.
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that can cause fluid to build up. This middle ear infection usually causes some hearing loss, and is the most common cause of hearing problems in children. It is also the illness most frequently contracted by infants and young children. The eustachian tube is more easily blocked in children, since it is much smaller than in adults and is nearly horizontal. Chances of contracting ear infections is greatly reduced as the child grows and the eustachian tube becomes larger and changes to a more vertical angle.
It is estimated that genetic factors are responsible for more than half of the congenital birth defects that cause hearing problems in children. Hearing loss is a common characteristic in children born with Down’s syndrome, Crouzon syndrome, Usher syndrome, Alport syndrome, and Treacher Collins syndrome. It is estimated that one to three out of every 1,000 babies are born with congenital hearing loss.
Congenital birth defects that cause hearing problems in children can also be caused by factors that occur during the pregnancy. Infections, such as rubella and herpes simplex, contracted by the mother during gestation are known to cause abnormalities which can ultimately lead to deafness in the developing fetus. Some drugs and other toxins ingested by the pregnant woman can cross the placental barrier and cause congenital hearing loss in the child. Maternal diabetes is another known cause of congenital deafness.
Hearing problems in children can also be caused by acquired hearing loss. This type of impairment can be caused by some diseases and environmental factors. Meningitis, measles, mumps, chicken pox, and encephalitis are just a few of the diseases that can cause hearing impairment. Some drugs ingested by a young child can also damage his or her auditory system.
Prolonged or brief exposure to loud noise is another cause of acquired hearing loss. Although the loss may be temporary, if exposure continues permanent impairment can result. If a child doesn’t show any reaction to loud sounds, it is an indication of possible deafness and the child should have a hearing screening.