There are many different reasons for hearing loss occurring in infants and children, as well as many different types of hearing loss. Many definitions will be used to classify what type of a hearing loss your child has. Here are some descriptions and summaries to explain exactly what these definitions and classifications mean.
Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent type of hearing loss that is caused by a biological fault with the workings of the inner ear (the cochlea). Sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants but is a permanent condition that will not improve. If your child has sensorineural hearing loss, you should be referred for testing to confirm any possible causes, genetic or otherwise, to rule out any further complications in the future and/or treat as necessary. The cause for your little one’s hearing loss may be intrauterine (occurring during pregnancy), perinatal (occurring around the time of giving birth), postnatal (occurring after birth), genetic or otherwise, but it’s important to understand that up to 20% of hearing loss in children has no confirmed aetiology.
Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and the term is used to define a hearing loss that is caused by a blockage in the middle or outer ear that prevents sounds from reaching the inner ear (cochlea). Ear infections, excess wax or glue ear are all common in infants in children and can cause temporary conductive hearing loss. If your child has one of these temporary conditions, it is likely there will be medication prescribed by your GP for an ear infection, or olive oil drops recommended by your audiologist to help clear wax. For glue ear, (where the middle ear fills with glue-like fluid) the first approach is likely a ‘watch and wait’ one, followed by balloon treatment and if this doesn’t work, the surgical insertion of grommets. In some cases where glue ear is persistent, hearing aids can be worn for the time until it clears to avoid surgery, but sound settings will be kept very conservative so as not to risk damage to the eardrum as the condition improves and hearing is restored.
There are also some conditions that will result in a permanent conductive hearing loss, such as structural abnormalities in the ear canal, middle or outer ear, or a ruptured ear drum. For permanent conductive hearing loss, BAHAs (bone anchored hearing aids) can be worn by children to help with hearing. With bone anchored hearing aids, your infant or child will not have an earmold that is inserted into the ear canal, as with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Instead, there will be a surgically implanted fixture placed in the bone behind the ear, and attached to that, a processor that will pick up sounds through a microphone and using vibrations, send the sound to the cochlea (bypassing the middle and outer ear). For bone anchored hearing aids to be suitable, the cochlea will need to be functioning correctly to pick up the sound vibrations transmitted.