Recognizing The Early Signs of Hearing Loss in Babies


Most babies have their hearing tested shortly after birth. However, some types of hearing impairment manifest later. As a parent, you need to know the signs.

Congenital hearing loss may affect as many as 1.7 in every 1000 babies. It's why most children are screened for hearing loss shortly after being born. It's important to understand, however, that even if the test detected no signs of hearing impairment in your child, that doesn't mean their hearing is perfect. 

Not all hearing loss in young children is congenital. And in some cases, hearing impairment may not manifest immediately after birth. That's why, as a parent, you need to train yourself to recognize the potential signs of hearing loss in your child. 

Because the sooner hearing loss is identified, the better.


What Causes Hearing Loss in Babies?

Because infants are still developing, their ears are especially vulnerable. As such, although there's some overlap in the cause between infant hearing loss and adult hearing loss, babies may lose their hearing for a range of additional reasons. These include: 

  • Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50% of infant hearing loss is the result of genetic factors. A third of babies with hereditary hearing loss have some comorbidity such as Usher syndrome. 

  • Exposure to noise levels higher than 60 decibels. 

  • Meningitis. 

  • Head trauma. 

  • Ototoxicity.


Why is Hearing Loss in Babies a Problem?

Your child's first five years of life are arguably the most important in their development. During this time, a child's experiences will form the foundation for every other aspect of their life. Communication is a critical component of this development. 

And if your child suffers from undiagnosed hearing loss, they can't communicate — at least not effectively. This significant developmental delay will very likely cause learning difficulties as the child grows up. It may also result in low self-esteem, and your child may have difficulty socializing. 

It's imperative that you identify potential hearing loss in your baby as soon as possible. That way, you can better accommodate their unique communication needs, But how do you detect the presence of hearing loss in your baby?


How Can You Tell if Your Baby's Hearing is Impaired?

Generally speaking, your infant may be struggling with hearing loss if: 

  • They are not startled by loud noises.

  • They don't turn towards sound after the age of six months. 

  • Their speech is delayed — they should be speaking simple words by age one. 

  • They don't respond to their voice. 

  • They fail to notice toys that make noise. 

  • They seem to prefer toys that create some sort of impact or vibration, such as a ball or a xylophone. 

  • They don't babble.

It's important to note that the above symptoms can stem from a range of developmental disabilities. Their presence doesn't necessarily mean your child's hearing is impaired. However, they should be enough for you to make an appointment with your care provider.   


How is Infant Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

A traditional audiometry exam cannot effectively diagnose hearing impairment in an infant. As a result, audiologists have devised several specialized tests. These include: 

  • Auditory Brainstem Response. Electrodes are attached to the baby's head, and their brain activity is measured in response to a range of different sounds. 

  • Otoacoustic Emissions. A small microphone is placed in the baby's ear, which is then connected to a computer or diagnostic device. A sound is transmitted through the microphone, and the audiologist checks to see if there's an echo. 

Observation. The audiologist will watch how you interact with your child and how they interact with their environment. They may also examine the child's ears to see if there are any physical signs of hearing loss.


What Can I Do if My Baby is Hearing Impaired?

Whether your child was born with hearing loss or developed it shortly after birth, the most important thing to remember is that you must not treat them like there's anything wrong with them. Your job as a parent is to provide your baby with a safe, fulfilling, and enriching environment in which they can grow and thrive. 

For a hearing-impaired child, that requires a few additional accommodations: 

  • Learn sign language, and teach it to your baby. 

  • Look into hearing assistance devices.

  • Cochlear implant surgery may be an option in extreme cases, though this should typically be a last resort. 

  • See if you can provide your child with an aide for when they start school.