Hearing Loss

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a problem with a child’s ears that reduces their ability to detect sound. Hearing loss can affect one or both ears and ranges from mild to profound. Even mild hearing loss can interfere with a child’s speech and language skills.

Approximately 4 in every 1,000 children are born with hearing loss. By age 12, about 20 percent of children have some degree of hearing loss. Acquired hearing loss can be the result of head trauma, illness, exposure to loud noises or certain medical treatments.

Hearing loss can be either temporary or permanent. Depending on the type and cause of their hearing loss, ear tubes, surgery or medication may restore your child’s hearing. Children with permanent hearing loss are often able to hear some sounds with technologies such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. Early intervention services can play a critical role in helping young children develop language and communication skills.

What are the levels of hearing loss?

Hearing loss in children is classified as mild, moderate, severe or profound.

  • A child with mild hearing loss will have trouble hearing soft sounds, including people with soft voices.
  • A child with moderate hearing loss will have trouble following conversations at a normal level, particularly if there is background noise.
  • A child with severe hearing loss has trouble hearing loud voices.
  • A child with profound hearing loss cannot hear most sounds.

What are the different types of hearing loss?

Conductive hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss in infants and young children. It happens when something is blocking the outer or middle ear and preventing sound waves from reaching the inner ear. While some children are born with conductive hearing loss, most often, conductive hearing loss is caused by an ear infection, which is often possible to reverse with ear tubes, medicine or surgery.

Sensorineural hearing loss is a problem with the inner ear or transmission of sound signals to the brain. Some children are born with this type of hearing loss but for many children, sensorineural hearing loss develops over time. Sensorineural hearing loss is almost always permanent. A hearing aid or cochlear implant can help children with sensorineural hearing loss detect sound. If their hearing loss is profound or severe, the child may learn to communicate using one of these technologies along with sign language, lip reading and gestures.

What are the treatment options for hearing loss?

Early intervention and detection of hearing loss is crucial; this will prevent your child from enduring additional problems with speech and language development. A healthcare team approach is normally used when a child is diagnosed with some degree of hearing loss. Some hearing problems are medically or surgically correctable. Other hearing problems are treated with hearing aids and speech and language therapy.

How we care for hearing loss

Our clinicians in the Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Enhancement at Boston Children's Hospital have extensive expertise evaluating and treating hearing loss. Our Hearing Disorders Clinic and Audiology Program offer comprehensive, multi-disciplinary evaluation and management of various degrees of hearing loss in infants, children and adolescents. We work closely with specialists in Boston Children’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, one of the largest, most comprehensive hearing-loss programs in the country, to provide comprehensive evaluation and consultative services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.