Why a child’s hearing is important

Hearing plays a big role in a child’s development. As soon as they are born, they will start to use speech and environmental sounds to develop relationships, and the knowledge and skills they will need for later in life. A baby can begin to recognise sounds even when still in the womb.

Why a child’s hearing is important

During the first stages of life, a child has a great amount to learn. This will include how to express their needs, how to walk, how to clean themselves, amongst other things. Later, they will need to learn all the skills associated with going to school, such as social skills and how to read and write. All these skills are much easier to learn when a child can hear what is going on around them. This will happen not only through deliberate learning, but through incidental learning as well. This means they will learn through being taught, by picking up on things in their environment, as well as overhearing and observing others. If a child has poor hearing, they will have to put in much more effort to understand their surroundings, resulting in them tiring easily, leaving them with less energy to learn what needs to be learnt, and can lead to slower development.

Hearing loss also has a great impact on a person’s ability to communicate with others, which, if left unaddressed, can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and frustration. It is also likely to result in a delay in a child’s spoken language, which can lead to adverse effects on their academic performance and their social interactions.

Causes of hearing loss in children

Hearing loss can result from congenital and/or acquired causes.

Congenital causes

This is when a hearing loss is present at or attained soon after birth. In this case, it can be the result of certain complications during pregnancy and childbirth, or it can be because of hereditary and non-hereditary genetic factors. These include:

  • A low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Maternal rubella, syphilis, or other specific infections during pregnancy
  • The unsuitable use of certain drugs during pregnancy, such as cytotoxic drugs, aminoglycosides, diuretics, and antimalarial drugs
  • Severe jaundice during the neonatal period. This can damage the hearing nerve in a new-born infant
  • Perinatal asphyxia. This is a condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen to a new-born infant, lasting long enough during childbirth that it causes physical harm (generally to the brain)

Acquired causes

These are causes of hearing loss that can happen at any age. These include:

  • Chronic ear infections. This is a very common cause of hearing loss in children
  • Infectious diseases such as meningitis, measles, and mumps
  • The use of certain medications, like those used to treat neonatal infections, malaria, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and cancers
  • Wax or foreign bodies blocking the outer ear canal
  • Excessive loud noise exposure. This includes occupational and recreational noise
  • Trauma to the head, neck, or ear

The importance of regular monitoring, and early detection and intervention

The effect of hearing loss on a child’s development and academic performance can be greatly reduced through early detection and intervention. If identified early on, a child’s educational and linguistic outcomes can be significantly improved, and children with hearing loss can then have the same developmental opportunities as a child with no hearing impairment. This can be done through the fitting of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices, if verbal communication is preferred, and/or by teaching the child and their family sign language. The child may also benefit from aural rehabilitation, speech therapy, and other such services.

A baby’s hearing should be screened at birth, before leaving the hospital. If they do not pass the initial screening, it is important to note that this does not necessarily mean they have a hearing loss, as there are a number of things that can affect the result of the tests (such as fluid in the ear canal), so is therefore very important to get them screened again within three months of the initial test. Should a hearing loss be detected, intervention services should be provided before 6 months of age, to reduce the effect of the hearing loss on the child’s development and to increase the effectiveness of the intervention. Should no hearing loss be detected, it is still important to monitor their hearing as they develop. Their hearing should be tested again if the parent has any speech, behaviour or hearing concerns, and/or if the child acquires any illness or condition that could result in a hearing loss. Their hearing should also be tested again before they start school. Once they have started school, it is important to continue with the monitoring process, and test again if the parents or teachers have any concerns.

How to know if your child has a hearing loss and what you can do

There are many different signs that can indicate that your child may have a hearing loss, however, they will differ depending on the age of your child. These are some general common signs to look out for:

Does your child:

  • Have little or no speech development?
  • Have little or no reaction to loud noises?
  • Have no or intermittent responses to family and friends’ voices?
  • Struggle to seek out or detect where sound is coming from?
  • Have no or little response when spoken to?
  • Fail to understand or answer questions appropriately?
  • Struggle to follow instructions?
  • Always ask you to turn up the volume on the TV?
  • Find social interactions challenging?
  • Act out in frustration?
  • Seem inattentive or distant?
  • Have poor academic performance?

If you answered yes to 1 or more of these signs, and you suspect that your child may have hearing loss, please contact us to get their hearing tested.

– By Talia Lifson


World Health Organization. (2020). Deafness and hearing loss. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss