Effects of Untreated Childhood Hearing Loss

The importance of early identification and treatment of any condition, disease or illness is well-known. This holds true for hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions children are born with; one to three out of every 1,000 children born each year in the US are born with some degree of hearing loss in at least one ear.1 Over 90% of children born deaf (severe to profound hearing loss) are born to parents who have normal hearing.2

Hearing loss in infancy cannot be ignored. In the US, federal law states that all children born must receive a newborn hearing screening. The newborn hearing screening can be extremely beneficial and is crucial in determining if a newborn baby has any type or degree of hearing loss. In the state of Georgia, if a child does not pass the newborn hearing screening they are required to receive a repeat screening outside of the hospital they are born. If that child does not pass the second screening they have to be referred to a pediatric audiologist to perform a formal hearing test to determine that child’s hearing levels.

Each state has a program called the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. This program is designed to help set standards for newborn hearing screening and identification and treatment of newborn hearing loss. EHDI states that children must receive a hearing screening by 1 month of age, diagnose and treat the hearing loss by 3 months of age and receive the proper early intervention by 6 months of age. This 1-3-6 rule was implemented in order to reduce the negative effects of late identification and treatment of a child with hearing loss.

Below are some developmental effects if a child’s hearing loss goes unidentified and untreated:

  • Speech and language delay
    • It’s simple – if a child can’t hear speech they have difficulty learning how to talk
    • The earlier a child is treated for hearing loss the better chance they have of developing speech and language normally3
  • Reading
    • If a child does not learn language because of hearing loss they have difficulty learning how to read, including grammar, spelling and syntax
    • Delays in reading abilities are associated with late-identified hearing loss4
  • Social
    • Social isolation can be common in children with untreated hearing loss
    • Not having the ability to interact with their peers because they cannot hear makes it difficult for these children to be social and integrated
  • Cognitive
    • We don’t hear with our ears, we hear with our brains
    • Lack of auditory signals to the brain can result in decreased cognitive ability over time
    • Recent studies have shown a link between dementia and untreated hearing loss in older adults5. This cognitive decline can also be seen in children as well
  • Behavioral
    • Children who have difficulty communicating their wants and needs inherently act out more because they don’t know any other way of expressing themselves. Think of a 1 year old child with normal hearing. They do not have the ability to say what they need or want so they cry, scream or throw a tantrum until they get what they want or need. This is no different for a child who cannot hear well and/or does not have the ability to tell someone what they want or need

Untreated childhood hearing loss has ramifications far beyond just the inability to hear. The importance of early identification and treatment of childhood hearing loss cannot be understated. If you or someone you know has concerns about a child’s hearing please seek out a pediatric audiologist and get a hearing test completed as soon as possible. Early identification and treatment of hearing loss can make the world of difference for every child with hearing loss.

 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Identifying infants with hearing loss – United States, 1999-2007. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 59(8): 220-223.
  2. Mitchell RE, Karchmer MA. Chasing the mythical ten percent: Parental hearing status of deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States. (link is external) (PDF) Sign Language Studies. 2004;4(2):138-163.
  3. Fulcher A, Purcell AA, Baker E, Munro N. Listen up: children with early identified hearing loss achieve age-appropriate speech/language outcomes by 3 years-of-age. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2012 Dec;76(12):1785-94.
  4. Hannah Pimperton, Hazel Blythe, Jana Kreppner, Merle Mahon, Janet L Peacock, Jim Stevenson, Emmanouela Terlektsi, Sarah Worsfold, Ho Ming Yuen, and Colin R Kennedy. The impact of universal newborn hearing screening on long-term literacy outcomes: a prospective cohort study. Arch Dis Child. 2016 Jan; 101(1): 9–15.
  5. Jayakody DMP, Friedland PL, Martins RN, Sohrabi HR. Impact of Aging on the Auditory System and Related Cognitive Functions: A Narrative Review. Front Neurosci. 2018 Mar 5;12:125. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00125. eCollection 2018.