Common signs your baby may have a hearing problem

 Hearing is a critical part of a child’s development during the first few years.

Even mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to speak and understand language. For more, read on…

The stats when it comes to hearing problems in babies is alarming. According to the South African Association of Audiologists (SAAA), two to four in every 1 000 babies are born with hearing loss. The good news is that hearing problems can be treated if they’re caught early.

How can I tell if my baby has a hearing problem?

Look out for these three common signs that could indicate a hearing problem in babies:

  1. Your baby doesn’t respond to your voice.
  2. Your baby isn’t startled by loud noises.
  3. She stops babbling or making noises.

Baby’s hearing milestones

The following milestones should be  noted in your baby from newborn to her first birthday:

  • Newborn baby: Startles when she hears a loud sound.
  • Two months: Your baby usually becomes quiet when she hears your voice.
  • Four and five months: She’ll look in the direction of a loud sound.
  • Six months: She starts to imitate sounds and babble.
  • Nine months: She’ll turn her head in the direction of softer sounds.
  • Age one: She responds to music and says “ma-ma”, “da-da” and “ta-ta”.

At what age should my baby have a hearing test?

Your baby’s hearing should ideally be tested at birth. Most hospitals have a resident audiologist on staff who can do the tests. If the hospital where you’re giving birth doesn’t have this service, ensure that you get your little one’s ears tested before the three- to six-month-mark.

Treatment for hearing loss is most effective if it’s started when a baby’s six months old. “The most important time for language development is up until the age of two years. The babbling, copying sounds, and intonation speech before two years are important building blocks for your child’s language,” says audiologist, Janine Schnugh.

Does a hearing test hurt?

No. It’s quick and painless and can even be done while your baby sleeps. A probe is gently inserted into your baby’s ear. A machine produces sounds that travel through your baby’s hearing system. In the inner ear, the cochlea picks up the sounds and produces a type of echo in response. The echo travels back out of the ear and is measured by the probe.  “If the responses are within the appropriate range, your baby passes the test. If she doesn’t pass the test, the test should be repeated within two weeks,” explains Schnugh.

What happens if my baby doesn’t pass the test?

It doesn’t necessarily mean she has a hearing problem. Many factors can influence results. “Your baby may be moving too much to get a reliable response, or there could be vernix (a waxy substance that sometimes coats the skin of newborns) or other obstructions in the outer ear canal. She could have a middle ear infection or middle ear fluid,” says Schnugh.  If your baby doesn’t pass the second test, more tests will be done to investigate the problem.

Will I be able to tell if my baby can’t hear?

“You won’t always be able to tell if your baby can hear or not,” says paediatrician, Dr Dewald Buitendag. Schnugh adds that the signs of partial hearing loss are very subtle. They often only surface when the speech and language milestones are delayed. However, if the hearing loss is significant, you’ll more than likely be able to tell.

Factors that may cause hearing loss in babies

Many factors can cause hearing loss.  “The outer, middle, or inner ear can be impaired, which can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss,” says Schnugh.

Hearing loss can occur if a child:

  • Was born prematurely
  • Had complications at birth and was admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • Had severe jaundice and needed a blood transfusion
  • Was given medication that could lead to hearing loss, such as aminoglycoside antibiotics, furosemide, diuretics, and ibuprofen anti-inflammatories
  • Has a family history of childhood hearing loss
  • Had frequent ear infections
  • Had infections like meningitis
  • Was exposed to very loud sounds or noises – even briefly.