Dr. Scott Brietzke is part of the Nemours Pediatric ENT team and is a leading cochlear implant surgeon. Here he discusses what hearing loss looks like in children and teens and how to address the overall health concerns of your children. He was kind enough to dive into topic parents are all too familiar with – the dreaded ear infection!
My friend says there’s a correlation between ear infections and hearing loss. Is she right?
“Ear infections can result in a fluid buildup that can temporarily and partially reduce hearing. However, permanent or severe hearing loss rarely results from typical ear infections. Once the ear infection resolves and the fluid goes away the hearing goes back to normal in the great majority of children. On a different note, parents should know that Meningitis (an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) is a much more rare type of infection, but it can affect hearing more severely and permanently. All patients who have had meningitis should have their hearing checked.”
What are the best practices when it comes to treating ear infections?
“There is a lot of misinformation regarding the treatment of ear infections in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has produced a comprehensive guideline on the treatment of acute ear infections. For all children, pain and fever management with acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen is recommended. For younger children under age 2, antibiotics are generally recommended. However, for older children up to a 72 hour period of observation can be appropriate as the great majority of ear infections resolve on their own and antibiotics do not typically help. The bottom line is that a parent concerned about a possible ear infection should always consider getting their child evaluated by a healthcare provider, but should also recognize that antibiotics are not always needed to treat an ear infection and that the use of acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen can be equally helpful and important in many cases.”
What is usually the first sign of suspected hearing loss?
“As a parent, if you notice your child is not hearing sounds (i.e. the doorbell or the phone) and your child is not responding to them, that is the most consistent clue.”
I think my toddler might be experiencing hearing loss but I’m not sure. What should I do?
“The sooner any hearing issues are diagnosed and managed, the better. Most pediatrician offices can perform a hearing screen. Any ENT office will have audiology with capability for hearing tests and many schools have the ability as well.”
Is there a standard for pediatric hearing tests? What is it? Are there preventive measures parents should be taking for children and teens at risk for hearing loss?
“As a rule, newborns need to be screened. Hearing protection is always a good preventative measure. Further testing should be at your discretion – a parent’s intuition is key!”
My child likes cranking up the music, football games, and other ‘loud stuff.’ Are there activities that place children and teens at a higher risk for hearing loss?
“If there is pain or ringing in the ears during or after noise exposure, the body is sending a message and the noise should either be avoided in the future or hearing protection used. Monitor those red flags as a parent in order to determine if an activity is putting your child at risk.”
Florida is full of water babies! Is swimming a risk factor for potential hearing loss? If so what precautions should parents take? In addition to swimming are there other Florida-centric activities that allow our littles to be prone to potential hearing loss?
“Swimming is not specifically a risk factor for ear infections or hearing loss. Parents should know that the fluid buildup that can cause mild temporary hearing loss with an ear infection is NOT caused by water from the shower, bathtub, or pool. This fluid is actually made by the body and is due to the ‘built-in’ tube within our skulls not working correctly. ‘Swimmer’s Ear’ is an outer ear infection that can result from water exposure but is far less common and typically only affects a person prone to it due to the anatomy of their ear canals and/or their skin reactivity. Continuous, loud noise exposure can be associated with permanent hearing loss. The general rule here is that if your ears (and therefore likely your child’s ears as well) hurt or ring during or after noise exposure, then your body is trying to tell you something and the noise should either be avoided or hearing protection (earplugs, earmuffs) should be used.”
What are the key signs and symptoms of potential hearing loss in children and teens, and at what point are these causes for concern as a parent?
“In older children, you may notice speech not changing and improving or they are less responsive in school. In these situations seek help as soon as possible.”