Healthy hearing in children is important for speech/language development, which facilitates social skills and eases learning. It is the ultimate communication tool. The following “Tips for Parents” are meant to boost their awareness of risk factors in order to preserve kids’ hearing.
Learn the basic facts
All education begins at home and parents are the primary teachers. This is why parents must know at least some basic facts about ears, hearing and hearing loss. The earlier kids learn to appreciate their hearing and the earlier problems are detected the better it will be.
As they grow older, children— and particularly teens—start to question adults. They become more discriminatory in what they accept or reject when it comes to information. All the more reason why adults must understand the issues and make their case in a convincing way.
A lot is about prevention
Not all hearing issues are genetic. Many are acquired and can be prevented or helped. This is where parental awareness and intervention can make a huge difference.
Bacterial and viral infections—especially neglected infections—blockages due to foreign bodies, head injuries, earwax plugs, fluid build-up, exposures to excessively loud sound and even to second-hand smoke are among the many causes that can endanger hearing in children.
Vaccination is the best defense against childhood diseases such as mumps, measles, chickenpox and whooping cough (pertussis) that can cause permanent hearing loss.
Be mindful of ear-related symptoms
If ears are red, hurt, itch, buzz, drain or ooze or if there are indications that a child might not hear well, it is time to get a professional opinion. However, parents often do not seek medical advice because the child might not have a fever. Yet, not all ear-related conditions produce a fever. Err on the safe side and leave diagnostic and treatment decisions to pediatricians and specialists trained in ear and hearing disorders
Noise! Lead by example
Learn about the devastating effects that loud sound can have on the inner ears and hearing nerves. Excessive noise feeds the silent hearing loss epidemic, especially in children and young adults. Noise-induced damage is permanent and cumulative. Every exposure piles on more damage.
Kids should be safe in their own homes. Yet, this is where many have their first ear-damaging sound insults. Certainly, the blame can be assigned to noisy toys and games and overly loud home entertainment centers. But mostly, children are not taught how and why loud sound causes hearing injuries that cannot be fixed. Noise is not fun. It is dangerous.
Children are very observant and learn from adults. So, turn down the volume on the home stereos and on your own MP3 players. Use hearing protection when working with power tools and machinery. Explain to the kids why it is important to reduce the sound levels as much as possible, whenever possible. Buy them their own set of ear protecting muffs and teach them how to apply them correctly.
Do not ignore hearing loss symptoms
Although a baby may have passed the newborn hearing tests, parents and doctors should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Children who pass the tests can be found with hearing loss or even deafness in early childhood. Are genetics at work? Viruses? An underlying undiagnosed condition? Were the original passing scores incorrect? In short, it is important for parents to watch for hearing loss symptoms in their children.
Hearing loss telltale signs include: The child
A consult with an ear specialist and a set of diagnostic hearing tests are needed if there are any suspicions that a child might have hearing issues.
In the end, hearing is a most precious sense. It keeps us connected to our environment and to society. In order to preserve their children’s healthy hearing, parents must become involved. Their willingness to learn and to teach their kids is an investment in the kids’ quality of life. And that’s what it’s all about—quality of life, for now and for the future so that the day never comes when the world turns dull and the music dies.
To learn about ears and hearing, please see my book on hearing loss: What Did You Say? An Unexpected Journey into the World of Hearing Loss, now in its second updated edition. Sharing my story and what I had to learn the hard way.