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Learning About Hearing Loss in Children

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a sudden or slow decrease in how well your child can hear. Depending on the cause, it can range from mild to profound. It can be short-term or permanent. Congenital hearing loss means your child is born with hearing problems.

In conductive hearing loss, sound is blocked before it reaches the inner ear. In sensorineural hearing loss, sound reaches the inner ear. But hearing is prevented by a problem in the inner ear, in the nerves that allow your child to hear, or in the brain. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both.

An ear infection may sometimes cause a short-term or reversible hearing loss. The infection blocks sound from passing through the ear canal or middle ear to the inner ear. This is one kind of conductive hearing loss.

Some hearing problems can delay your child's speech and language development. Early screening for hearing loss can help prevent speech and language problems.

What are the symptoms?

If your child is not responding to voices or sounds as well as in the past, your child may have hearing loss.

Some common symptoms of hearing loss include:

  • Muffled hearing and a feeling that the ear is plugged.
  • Trouble understanding what people are saying, especially when there is background talking or noise.
  • Listening to the TV or radio at a higher volume than in the past.
  • A delay in your child's speech development.

How is it diagnosed?

Hearing tests are used to check for hearing loss in children and babies. There are many types of hearing tests. They help find out what kind of hearing loss your child may have. They also can show how severe it is. Your doctor may refer you to an audiologist for the hearing tests. In some areas, you don’t need your doctor to make a referral and you can call to make the appointment for hearing tests yourself.

How is hearing loss treated?

  • If your child has temporary or reversible hearing loss, your doctor can treat the problem that caused the hearing loss, such as by removing earwax or treating an ear infection.
  • Permanent hearing loss can be treated with hearing technology, such as hearing aids. If hearing aids don't work for your child, a cochlear implant or bone conduction hearing device may be an option.
  • Have your child wear hearing aids all waking hours. See an audiologist who specializes in hearing aids for children (pediatric). They can help you pick hearing aids that best fit your child.
  • Work with your child's healthcare team and teachers to access services to support your child's hearing, language, and learning.
  • Think about counseling for your child if they need help adjusting to permanent hearing loss.

How can you prevent hearing loss?

  • Make sure your child does not put objects in their ear.
  • Never stick a cotton swab, hairpin, or other object in your child's ear to try to remove earwax.
  • Teach your child to blow their nose gently and through both nostrils.
  • Make sure your child avoids loud noise, such as loud music.
  • When your child cannot avoid loud sounds, make sure they use hearing protection.
  • Limit the volume setting on personal listening devices including phones and tablets to a safe level.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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