Signs & causes of hearing loss in children

Awareness of communication milestones can help identify early signs of hearing loss.

Three boys playing with toys

Babies begin to hear and recognise the rhythm and melody of voices within months of birth. They often respond with cooing sounds when you talk to them. An untreated hearing problem can have a devastating effect on a child's ability to learn spoken language. This then impacts on their schooling, education, career prospects and general quality of life. The communication milestones listed below can help you look for the early signs of hearing loss in your baby. If you have any concerns about your baby's development contact your health care professional for a hearing assessment.

How babies and infants with normal hearing usually respond

  • Newborn babies - newborn babies will generally 'startle' or jump in response to sudden loud noises. They will also sometimes turn their head in the direction of sound.
  • By 2 months - your baby's hearing has improved. They should now be able to hear sounds in different pitches, intensities and tones.
  • By 3-4 months - your baby starts to recognise your voice (parents) and can vocalise consonant sounds (M, K, G, P and B) and some vowel sounds.
  • By 5-6 months - your baby may start giggling at this point. Babbling sounds start sounding more like words.
  • By 8-9 months - your baby starts to understand the relationship between words and gestures.
  • By 11-12 months - your baby is now starting to understand simple words like "milk" "bottle" or "bath". They should also be starting to say words like "Mama" or "bye-bye".

Your baby may need a full hearing evaluation if:

  • the screening test in hospital suggested a potential problem
  • they did not get a screening test in a hospital
  • they are not developing the normal hearing responses listed above.

Your infant or child may need a full hearing evaluation if they:

  • don’t respond to things said to them, or don’t seem to notice that you have spoken to them
  • ask you to repeat things (more for older children than infants)
  • need to search right and left to find the voice or sound
  • start talking later than children the same age (based on reports by teachers, etc)
  • can’t say words and sentences the right way
  • have difficulty hearing one voice when several people are talking
  • miss quick or soft sounds
  • are performing poorly at school.

Children of all ages may need a full hearing evaluation if:

  • ask you to repeat things (more for older children than infants)
  • they have had diseases that can cause hearing loss
  • they have been diagnosed with other conditions that sometimes include hearing loss
  • they have been taking medical treatments that may have hearing loss as a side effect
  • you have a family history of hearing problems (hearing loss is hereditary).

Common behaviour in children with hearing loss

  • Sad - because they don’t understand why people shout at them
  • Angry and frustrated - at not being able to hear or communicate
  • Shy - particularly around people they don’t know, because they can’t understand everything they say
  • Quiet and withdrawn at school - if they can’t hear the teacher well or follow instructions
  • Exhaustion - hearing takes a lot of energy. Children with a hearing loss are often exhausted by the end of the day
  • Misbehaved - a 'behavioural problem' can sometimes mask a hearing loss in children. Often 'behavioural problems' result from frustration at not hearing correctly
  • Low self-esteem – people and peers may conclude that a child is cognitively delayed if they are missing information and the child may start to believe they are not capable or able to do things their peers can

 

If you think your child has a hearing problem, please contact your nearest clinic or a health professional.

Disclaimer

Please seek advice from your medical practitioner or health professional about treatments for hearing loss. They will be able to advise on a suitable solution for the hearing loss condition. All products should be used only as directed by your medical practitioner or health professional. 

Not all products are available in all countries. Please contact your local Cochlear representative.