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Types of Hearing Losses and When to See a Doctor

Posted on Apr 11, 2019

Audiology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Whether you’re a first-time parent or seasoned pro raising your fourth kid, each child is different and sometimes it is hard to know if something unusual is going on–especially when it comes to his or her hearing.

The good news is that each newborn baby is screened in his or her first few days of life to check for hearing loss and deafness. This allows providers the chance to intervene as soon as possible, which should help a child to stay on track with speech and language milestones. The goal is to prevent developmental delays down the road.

While the news of having a baby with a hearing problem can be overwhelming, audiologists at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital are specifically trained to take your hand and walk you through the process of getting your baby the care he or she needs.

“During a critical time of newly diagnosed hearing loss, the audiologist’s counseling skills are just as important, if not even more important, as their diagnostic skills,” says Paula Golson, the director of the hospital’s audiology service line. “Johns Hopkins All Children’s provides continuing education to ensure we have the tools needed to support families.”

Over time, mild hearing loss can still happen–even if a child wasn’t born with a hearing disability. Repeat ear infections and allergies leading to fluid in the ears can also be the culprit of hearing difficulty.
For parents whose baby passed the newborn screening but are seeing problems later on–such as language delays or inattentiveness–a trip to the audiologist is usually the first stop.

“Any time that a parent is concerned about a child’s language or development, the first question that the pediatrician usually wants answered is the hearing status,” Golson says. “Hearing impacts not only language, but social interactions, therefore audiologists are typically the first professional to evaluate a child that a pediatrician is concerned may have behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for example.”

5 types of hearing disorders and losses and what they mean:

  • Auditory Neuropathy Hearing Loss: A hearing disorder in which the inner ear functions normally and successfully detects sound but has a problem with sending sound from the ear to the brain. Cause: There is a disconnect between the ear and the brain.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder: This is not a true “hearing sensitivity” problem, but is a problem processing information that is heard and can lead to problems in school for children. People with auditory processing disorders may have difficulties with remembering information, listening when there is background noise or with academic skills such as reading and writing.
  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Sound is not able to get though the outer and/or middle ear causing a reduction of sound being sent to the inner ear (the nerve of hearing). Typical causes: fluid in the middle ear, ruptured eardrum or simply wax in the ear canal.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss: This type of hearing loss is related to damage or a defect in the inner ear or in the neural pathway to the brain. This is a permanent type loss that can be at only certain pitches, very mild or complete deafness. Typical causes: genetic hearing loss, meningitis and/or ototoxic medications.
  • Unilateral Hearing Loss: Any type of loss that is occurring on just one ear. 

If parents suspect their child might be suffering from hearing difficulties, they should see their pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric audiologist.

“A pediatric audiologist can get children to respond to sound by playing games or entertaining using toys, bubbles and gadgets, and many times we will spend an hour with two audiologists to get the kid engaged and to respond,” Golson says.

Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Audiology for more information about the audiology team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
 


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