Causes Of Hearing Loss In Children

Broadly speaking, there are three principal causes of hearing loss in children. These are otitis media or ear infections, congenital factors and some acquired causes. Let us have a look at these causes.

Otitis media is an inflammation that usually occurs in the area behind the eardrum that is more often than not linked with the buildup of fluid. It is not always the case that the fluid is infected. Its symptoms vary in severity, longevity and frequency from child to child. Children may have short period of thin, clear, non-infected fluid which causes no pain or fever but slightly hampers hearing ability. In more severe cases, children have repeated bouts with infection, thick "glue-like" fluid and possible complications such as permanent hearing loss.

Otitis media, in fact, is one of the most common causes of hearing loss in children. This type of hearing loss is mostly temporary, but if otitis media occurs repeatedly, it might damage the eardrum, the bones of the ear, or even the hearing nerve and lead to a permanent hearing loss in children.

If hearing loss is present in children at birth, it is due to congenital causes. Congenital hearing loss means that problem is there since birth. It includes hereditary hearing loss or hearing loss due to other factors present either in utero (prenatal) or at the time of birth.

Genetic hearing loss in children may be autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, or X-linked (related to the sex chromosome). Genetic causes play a major role in hearing loss in children.

Some examples of genetic syndromes where hearing loss is one of the known characteristics include Down syndrome (abnormality on a gene), Usher syndrome (autosomal recessive), Treacher Collins syndrome (autosomal dominant), Fetal alcohol syndrome (genetic abnormality), Crouzon syndrome (autosomal donimant), and Alport syndrome (X-linked). Among other causes of congenital hearing loss that are not hereditary in nature are prenatal infections, illnesses, or conditions occurring at the time of birth or soon thereafter.

These include intrauterine infections including rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex virus, complications associated with the Rh factor in the blood, prematurity, maternal diabetes, toxemia during pregnancy, lack of oxygen, syphilis, and malformation of ear structures. Cytomegalovirus is very similar to rubella in how it can affect a fetus. Similar in many ways to rubella, it is a dangerous virus that can result in a baby being born with a progressive hearing loss, mental retardation, blindness, or cerebral palsy. According to reports available from the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 5% of children born before 32 weeks (8 months of pregnancy) suffer hearing loss by the time they reach five.

Acquired hearing loss appears after birth, at any time in a person's life, perhaps as a result of a disease, a condition, or an injury. The following conditions can cause acquired hearing loss in children: ear infections or otitis media (mentioned earlier), ototoxic (which cause damage to the auditory system) drugs, meningitis, measles, encephalitis, chicken pox, influenza, mumps, head injury and noise exposure. Meningitis is one of the most common post-natal causes of hearing loss in children. The antibiotics used for treating bacterial meningitis can lead to hearing loss, but steroids can be used to reduce this risk.