Hearing Loss in Children

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
January 2014

Hearing plays an important role in the social and emotional growth of children. If your child cannot hear well, learning to speak can be hard. It is important to recognize the signs of hearing loss early to prevent or lessen any concerns.

What can I do to protect my child’s hearing?

Often hearing loss is not preventable. However, you can help protect your child’s hearing by keeping them away from loud noise such as fireworks and power tools, and from harmful substances such as cigarette smoke.

Also, getting your child vaccinated helps prevent illness that can cause permanent hearing loss.

What can affect my child’s hearing?

The most common causes of temporary hearing loss in children include:

  • Ear infections
  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Cleft palate

Some common causes of permanent hearing loss in children include:

  • Genetic hearing loss in the family
  • Low birth weight – less than 1200 grams (2.65 pounds)
  • Some infections present at birth such as toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, or rubella
  • Neonatal intensive care stay of more than 5 days
  • A difficult birth which affected breathing
  • Some syndromes, like Downs, Pendred, and Alport
  • Very high bilirubin levels at birth that require an exchange transfusion
  • Disorder of the brain or nervous system
  • Childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps, encephalitis, or meningitis
  • Excessive noise exposure

What are the speech and language milestones for my child’s age group?

Birth to 3 months old

  • Startles or cries at loud sounds
  • Becomes quiet or smiles when spoken to
  • Makes cooing sounds

4 to 6 months old

  • Moves eyes in direction of sounds
  • Pays attention to music
  • Notices toys that make sounds
  • Babbles using many speech-like sounds
  • Uses a variety of pitches in squeals, whimpers and chuckles

7 to 12 months old

  • Turns and looks in the direction of sounds
  • Recognizes words for common items such as cup, juice, or shoe
  • Begins to respond to requests such as ‘come here’ or ‘do you want more?’
  • Imitates different speech sounds
  • Starts saying first words such as mama and dada around 12 months old

1 to 2 years old

  • Points to body parts when asked
  • Follows simple commands
  • Says more words every month
  • Starts to put 2 words together

2 to 3 years old

  • Follows 2 requests at a time, such as get the toy and put it on the chair
  • Listens to stories for a longer period of time
  • Uses 2 to 3 words to talk and ask for things
  • Is understood by people who are often around them most of the time

What can I do if I think my child has hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be hard to detect. Mild hearing loss is sometimes mistaken for other concerns, and it may cause a child to appear distracted or withdrawn.

Parents are usually the first to know if there is a concern.

If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, contact your local public health hearing clinic or your family health care provider.

See your health care provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • ear discharge (runny ear);
  • earache (pain in the ear);
  • bad smell from the ear canal;
  • reddened skin around the ear;
  • an object in the ear canal; or
  • an injury to the ear.

Is hearing loss temporary or permanent?

Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary, sensorineural loss is usually permanent. Most hearing loss in young children is temporary or medically treatable.

A test by an audiologist will determine what type of hearing loss your child has. An audiologist is a person who has special training in hearing testing and treatment.

For More Information

For information on hearing tests for children, see HealthLinkBC File #71b Hearing Tests for Children.

For information on hearing loss in adults, see HealthLinkBC File #71c Hearing Loss in Adults.

For more information on how second-hand smoke can harm babies and children, see HealthLinkBC File #30a The Harmful Effects of Second-hand Smoke.

For more information on childhood immunization, see the following:

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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