Is your child suffering from hearing loss?

Our technological onslaught of iPods, cellphones, TV and video games is a noisy one, especially if your child has earbuds to crank the volume. Is all the noise a risk to their hearing?

Teen wearing earbuds

Melissa Rodriguez, hearing specialist and author of Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss, is making strides to break down the social stigmas of hearing loss. SheKnows interviewed Rodriguez about how to spot the warning signs in children and what to do about it.

SheKnows: What are the top three signs a child may suffer from poor hearing?

Melissa Rodriguez: First, if your child is talking very loudly or not at all, it may be due to advanced hearing loss. If you notice their speech sounding mushy or unclear this can be a sign of a more moderate or high-frequency hearing loss. Because we speak the way that we hear, that mushy quality may be signaling a hearing problem. Another sign to look for is if a child plays the TV at high volumes or sits very close to the TV. This may be their way of manipulating the environment to be able to hear. Finally, be aware whether your child can pick up on the location of speech and know when the doorbell rings or hear the oven timer go off.

Schedule a hearing test

SheKnows: What should a concerned parent do?

Melissa Rodriguez: See a hearing care professional right away. This may be their pediatrician, an otolaryngologist (ENT), an audiologist or a hearing care provider. Because the hearing system is complex, there are several different areas of the ear that must be checked to know whether your child’s hearing is as good as it should be.

Monitor kids’ use of tech devices

SheKnows: Is hearing loss common among today’s children, given the rise in use of cell phones and iPods?

Melissa Rodriguez: It is really too soon to tell, although in my practice we see more teens with hearing loss than ever before. Studies are conflicting at this point as to the cause, but we do know that loud sounds are most damaging when used over a long period of time. Damage that today’s children are doing to their ears through the use of amplification devices — phones, iPods, MP3 players, etc. — may not show up for another 10 or 20 years.

SheKnows: Does the frequency of use and volume of these devices pose a hazard?

Melissa Rodriguez: Yes, the frequency and volume of these devices absolutely pose dangers to our everyday well-being. Noises over 90 decibels begin to do permanent damage to the hair cells in the cochlea within 15 minutes. Listening to these devices through headphones can cause us to be disconnected with the immediate world around us. Depression and aggressive behavior can be due to a child feeling isolated and friendless, which develops from being cut off from the world around them. Parents and caregivers need to encourage limited use of these devices, never allow children to sleep with headphones on or earbuds in their ears and also encourage conversations. Allowing children to be listening to an outside stimulus while eating dinner or being together can lead to not only hearing loss but also an inability to relate to those living right next to them.

Keep electronic devices on volume control

SheKnows: Your top tips to protect a child’s hearing?

Melissa Rodriguez: Know and enforce the 60/60 rule: Keep all electronic devices with a volume control used at ear level at no more than 60 percent of the available volume and used no more than 60 minutes per day. Also, be aware of the sounds around you: Movie theaters, concerts and many entertainment venues can have noise levels that are damaging to the ears. Be sure your child has a pair of earplugs to use in these environments. And everyone should have a hearing test annually.

More on hearing loss in children

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Will ear tubes help my child overcome speech delays?
Bilateral sensorineural hearing loss: Cason’s story