Posts

Mild Hearing Loss in Children

Mild hearing loss is often ignored and – especially in children – easily dismissed. Outside of health circles it is rarely talked about or considered a problem, but mild to moderate hearing loss can very easily lead to developmental or learning problems down the road.

“Mild and moderate hearing loss can often be overlooked because of a perception that it is not a serious condition or that children are ‘coping’ at home and at school. No child should have to struggle because of these misconceptions,” the National Deaf Children’s Society (a UK organization) says.

Putting aside for a second the issue that hearing loss can always get worse, it’s important to also remember that any hearing trouble can have serious consequences on a child’s development. With even a slight hearing difficulty, the extra struggle it takes to comprehend speech or listen in the classroom could alter the entire learning process.

“Children with mild hearing loss are at risk for academic, speech-language, and social-emotional difficulties,” writes Jane Madell of Hearing Health & Technology Matters. This makes early diagnosis and treatment – before children start demonstrating delays – very important. Parents and physicians need to be extra careful at this point, too, because low end hearing loss is sometimes not picked up during the newborn hearing screening.

Slight hearing loss is classified as falling between 16 to 25 on the dB HL scale, while mild loss finds itself in the 26 to 40 range. This scale determines your level of hearing loss by identifying the point at which you begin to hear sound. If you only pick up on sounds starting in the 26 to 40 territory, you may have mild rated hearing loss. This means you might not be able to hear sounds like a whisper or rustling leaves.

There are ways to treat and manage slight hearing loss, and the approach is often determined on a case by case basis. Common solutions are hearing aids and classroom speech delivery systems such as the Phoank Roger Pen or the Oticon Connect Clip. For other options, it’s important to talk to both your pediatrician and your audiologist.

Remember, always raise any concern you have to your family physician about your child’s hearing loss. Treat it early, manage it well.

Surprising Levels of Everyday Sounds

So you don’t go to any loud concerts, you don’t work around heavy machinery without proper ear protection, and you always keep your tv and music at a reasonable volume — can you still lose your hearing from the everyday sounds around you?

Absolutely.

ASHA provides a breakdown of sound decibel levels. Though the effect of day to day noise on your hearing is dependent not only on sound level but also on the length of exposure to that sound, some items you might not think twice about can have a noticeable effect on your hearing. An average blow dryer, kitchen blender, or food processor can be measured between 80 – 90 dBA (decibels), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthy (NIOSH) recommends anyone exposed to noises “85 dBA or louder for more than 8 hours a day” should make efforts to limit their exposure at that level.

A blow-dryer, of course, is not a jet engine, but if you’re exposed to it’s noise level for a long enough time, the effects on your hearing can be comparable.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder (NIDCD) rates anything above 85 dBA as the level – after 8 hours – at which hearing damage begins to occur. Anything below 85 dB (washing machines, city traffic, vacuum cleaner, normal conversation) is considered safe and exposure for up to 24 hours will not cause any hearing loss.

Pretty self explanatory, though there are still some sounds louder than you might realize.

1.) Driving in a convertible – 85 – 91 db at 55 mph or more.

2.) Electric drill / consumer power tools. Many tools won’t reach over 90 dBa, but some might sneak up to ~115, which means safe level of exposure is dropped from 2 hours to 15 minutes. When using tools, always play it safe and wear ear protection.

3.) Noisy restaurants. They’re not quite on the level of a club or concert, but restaurants can be unexpectedly noisy. According to Noisy Planet, restaurant “reviewers have noted noise level averages of 80 decibels or higher in restaurants around the country.”

For a safety regarding length of exposure, be sure to check out our past blog on sound and decibel levels.

Most sounds you hear day in and day out won’t harm your hearing, and you don’t have to go around carrying a decibel meter or anything (though there are handy measuring apps you can get on your phone). Just remember to wear ear protection while using tools, and avoid any prolonged sound that makes you uncomfortable.

Tips for Going Back to School with Hearing Loss

Going back to school with hearing loss can be daunting. There is a lot to consider, especially in regards to responsibility. What should the school do? What should the state do? What should parents and children do?

Parents should not be afraid to ask their school questions. The Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) “insures that all children with disabilities have a free and appropriate education.” The rights of an education – regardless of ability or disability – are protected, as are the rights of the children and their parents in seeing that education enacted.

Different schools have different equipment, and students with different levels of hearing loss are often assigned to different levels of support based on their needs. FM systems are a popular method that allow the student to hear and participate in class. Schools might also offer interpreters or classroom assistance based upon the child’s hearing loss, mode of communication and academic level. The education department websites for New Jersey and Pennsylvania have more info.

What is important to remember is that every child is unique and what they need may be very different from what their peers with hearing loss need. The family should sit down with their school professional and come up with a plan that tailors to their child’s specific needs at that time. As the child gets older, this approach may need to be updated.

Specifically, there are some helpful devices parents may want to look into. The Phonak Roger Products, for instance. The Roger products include wireless microphones that connect to the student’s hearing aid. Some may also have a sensor that allows them to lay on the student’s desk, enabling the child to participate in group learning.

Outside of devices, many audiologists recommend a school walk through at the beginning of the year to in-service the teachers and staff about a child’s hearing loss and academic needs. During the school year itself, they recommend encouraging students with hearing loss to join extracurricular activities and participate in as many day to day activities as possible. Socialization is important to allow them to feel and be part of a group.