How Often should we Test Children for Hearing Issues?

March 2, 2020

by Carolyn Mee

Two girls looking at camera, one with headphones on and tablet in front of her.

Imagine if one word could save your child’s life but when it came time for you to use it, and for them to hear it, they couldn’t.

Fortunately, when I was confronted with just this situation, my daughter was able to hear that one word and it did save her life.

The word was STOP!

My daughter was about to step out onto the road without looking. It was a normally quiet street but on this occasion, a car sped out of nowhere and was on a collision course with my daughter. I screamed ‘stop’ and mercifully she heard me. She stopped. She stepped back onto the kerb to safety. This one simple word was the only thing that stood between us and a tragedy. At the time my daughter was ten and should have known better. She knew the rules but, let’s face it, no matter how many times you tell them, kids don’t always think before they act. Thankfully her good hearing saved her.

Strangely, hearing often seems to be the poor second cousin to sight. But hearing is vitally important. As a sense, it not only helps us understand what’s going on around us but it also plays a part in how our brain works with recent research suggesting that the treatment of hearing loss could decrease the risk of developing dementia. Healthy hearing is important, so identifying hearing loss early, so it can be treated and issues remediated, should not be left to chance.

Surprisingly, across much of Australia, children are only offered one hearing check and that’s at birth. The newborn hearing test is offered to all babies and plays a vital role in identifying children born with moderate to severe hearing loss. These children can be fitted with hearing aids or cochlear devices early, giving them the best opportunity for their language and learning to progress in line with their peers.

Not All Hearing Issues Are Present At Birth

Unfortunately, not all hearing issues are present at birth. Dr Mariana Reis, Clinical Researcher with Sound Scouts, a hearing company focused on the detection of childhood hearing issues, notes that some children may develop middle ear conditions, such as otitis media in the early years. Some childhood viruses may also affect hearing, and in some instances, cause permanent inner ear issues which can go unnoticed for years as children often develop strategies to manage their loss. Hearing issues may affect children’s ability to communicate effectively as well as their psychosocial wellbeing.

I heard about one young girl who lost her hearing in one ear. At bedtime when it came time for dad to read her a bedtime story she always angled her good ear towards his voice. Dad eventually realised that something wasn’t right.

Once is not enough when it comes to checking that our children can hear properly. Detecting hearing issues shouldn’t be left to chance because it’s not always easy to recognise the signs. Ideally, children should have their hearing tested every year.

Aidan’s Story

Year 7 student Aidan is a bright, witty boy but his outgoing personality almost hid a hearing loss that may have hampered his high school years, preventing him from reaching his full potential.

Aidan has a permanent hearing loss that went undetected until he reached Year 5. It was easy to miss the subtle signs of Aidan’s hearing loss due to his confident ways. Aidan, like many children, was a master of disguise when it came to inadvertently hiding his loss. Children skillfully blend in with normal hearing students; lip reading, copying others when they cannot hear the instructions from their teachers or creating distractions amongst friends to hide the fact that they were unable to hear what was said.

Fortunately for Aidan, his hearing loss was detected and hearing aids have made a world of difference. He can now hear his parents better, respond appropriately to his friends in the playground, and learn from his teachers in the classroom.

Cheerful, bubbly and open about his hearing loss Aidan acknowledges the impact that discovering his loss and receiving hearing aids has had on his life.

Before I got my hearing aids I would often say ‘What’ ‘Pardon’ and ‘Sorry’… but it’s unlikely now.

“I can hear the wind blowing which – actually - I like the sound of!” says Aidan.

Aidan’s father Stephen Parrish explains ‘Aidan being recognised with hearing difficulties really has been a life-changing experience, it’s allowed him to get the support he needed. We now understand that some of his social awkwardness before being diagnosed was likely linked to him not being able to hear everything and feeling he was getting things wrong. His confidence has grown significantly over the last couple of years, and as a parent, I feel relieved that I now have the knowledge and tools to support him more’.

How To Test Your Child’s Hearing

With over 5.4million children spread across Australia, it’s not always possible for children to see an audiologist for a hearing check but technology can provide a reliable screening solution that will detect the majority of hearing issues. The Sound Scouts app is a game-based test of hearing. Developed in collaboration with the National Acoustic Laboratories, the app is evidence-based and with the support of the Department of Health is now free for all Australian children.

Dr Mariana Reis confirms “Hearing loss may occur at any stage throughout the lifespan. Early identification and treatment of hearing loss may prevent this from negatively impacting children’s communication and socialisation with their peers as well as their academic development.”

Take the time to check your children’s hearing this Hearing Awareness Week, because once is not enough and there may come a time when their life depends on being able to hear.

by Carolyn Mee