Does my baby have hearing loss?

These days, most post natal doctors screen a new baby’s hearing. If your baby wasn’t screened ask the doctor about checking his hearing as soon as possible – within the first month.

Sometimes hearing loss develops later on, though. Parents and caregivers are often the first to notice when a baby’s not hearing well, so take note if your baby isn’t reacting to sounds as you think he should, and tell the doctor right away.

Here are some guidelines for what to expect in a child with normal hearing:

  • Your newborn startles when he hears a loud sound.
  • At around 2 months of age, he becomes quiet when he hears your voice.
  • When he’s 4 or 5 months old, he’ll look toward a loud sound.
  • At 6 months, he begins to imitate sounds and babble.
  • At around 9 months, he’ll turn toward a softer sound.
  • By 1 year, he responds to music and says “ma-ma” and “da-da.”

Learn more about warning signs of hearing problems.

What causes hearing problems?

There are two types of hearing loss – congenital (meaning the baby was born with it) and acquired (meaning the baby lost hearing sometime after birth).

Sometimes hearing impairment is inherited – even if both parents have normal hearing. Other times a baby’s hearing is damaged because his mother had a viral infection during pregnancy, such as German measles (rubella), toxoplasmosis, or herpes.

Some children are born with impaired hearing because of low birth weight or premature birth, or abnormal inner ear development. In some cases, there’s no explanation.

After birth, a child may suffer hearing loss when the nerves in his inner ear are damaged by an injury, a tumor, or an infection such as chicken pox, the flu, meningitis, or mononucleosis. Medications such as chemotherapy agents, salicylates, loop diuretics, and certain intravenous antibiotics may also cause hearing loss.

Hearing loss can also be caused by fluid retained in the middle ear – after infection or because of poor ventilation of the ear. This fluid can remain in the ear for weeks, even after an infection is gone.

The fluid can cause temporary hearing loss until the fluid clears or is surgically removed. (It’s hard to hear through an ear filled with fluid.) Permanent hearing loss from fluid is rare, but it can occur in children whose fluid remains untreated, resulting in structural changes in the eardrum or hearing bones.

If your baby has recurrent ear infections or middle ear fluid, his doctor may recommend a hearing test. She may also recommend inserting tubes into your baby’s eardrums so that any fluid that accumulates behind them will be able to drain out and the ears remain ventilated.

Earwax and foreign objects in the ear can also cause temporary hearing loss.