Hearing loss is quite common in children under 18, with about 1 in 50 with some form of a hearing impairment.
Some children have congenital hearing loss, which is present at birth and often permanent, while others have acquired hearing loss, or an impairment that occurs after birth that is more likely to be temporary.
Testing a child’s hearing is a simple, painless process that typically takes less than an hour.
Children rarely notice that they are having trouble hearing; parents or teachers are often the first to develop concern about a child’s hearing health. Some common signs and symptoms of pediatric hearing loss include:
- Turning up the volume on toys or electronics
- Not responding when spoken to from behind or from another room
- Falling behind on normal speech and language benchmarks
- Developing social problems or anxieties
- Struggling with learning in a classroom setting
Pediatric Hearing Tests
Audiologists use a variety of hearing tests to evaluate a child’s auditory abilities. These tests can analyze several factors of hearing loss including the severity, location and frequency of the impairment. Pediatric hearing loss is often a temporary condition caused by problems such as ear infections and buildups of wax or fluid. A hearing assessment allows your audiologist to determine the cause of the hearing impairment in order to develop a treatment plan.
There are a number of methods for assessing hearing, though some are more commonly used for pediatric evaluations. Some common hearing tests for children include:
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Test
- This tool uses a microphone and speaker to test the functionality of the inner ear by measuring its response (otoacoustic emission) when sound enters the ear canal.
Acoustic Reflex Test
- The acoustic reflex test assesses a child’s middle ear and acoustic nerve functions. This assessment tool measures the middle ear’s reflex reactions triggered by sounds delivered into the ear canal using a rubber-tipped instrument.
- Tympanometry screenings evaluate the functionality of a child’s eardrum using an instrument that delivers varying levels of air pressure to the middle ear. The tympanogram helps audiologists identify common pediatric problems such as middle ear fluid and negative middle ear pressure.
Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA)
- VRA testing is used for testing babies from 6 months to 24 months old and for older children with developmental delays. The testing is done in a large sound-treated booth, as a quiet environment is needed to get the best results. During VRA testing, the child is seated on the parent’s lap centered between toys with lights and animation. The audiologist conditions the child to turn toward a sound using the toys as reinforcement of the desired responses. The sounds are presented through headphones if the child will wear them or speakers on either side. The softest sounds that the child responds to are recorded onto the audiogram.
Conditioned Play Audiometry
- For kids who are three or four, we play “listening games” to assess their hearing abilities. The child can either sit on the parents lap or sit by themselves with the parents sitting close by. The test is done in a large sound-treated booth to ensure a quiet environment. The audiologist will instruct the child to point to pictures and put toys in a basket as a response to what they hear. The parent is usually asked to assist in this type of testing by keeping the child seated, holding picture boards and handing toys to the child. At times, a second audiologist may assist with the testing. Because a quiet environment is required to get the best results, it is better if siblings are not in the same room during the test.