Signs of Hearing Loss in Toddlers

Most people think of hearing loss as an age-related disease. While age-related hearing loss does exist and is expected, children can also develop hearing loss. At times, babies are even born with hearing loss. Therefore, it’s crucial individuals learn how to detect hearing loss in toddlers before it negatively impacts their lives.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2017, roughly 6,500 babies were born with permanent hearing loss in the USA. On average, the CDC found 1.7 per 1000 babies have some degree of hearing loss. For children between 3 and 17 years old, 5 out of 1,000 children had hearing loss.

Through various studies, the CDC concluded that nearly 40% of adults who had hearing loss as children had at least one limitation in their daily lives due to their condition. Thus, it is crucial to detect hearing loss signs in toddlers to address their needs.

Hearing Loss in Toddlers


Children with hearing loss have difficulty with all forms of listening. In addition, beyond hearing, their social skills, speaking skills, and the ability to pick up languages decrease with the onset of hearing loss.

High-frequency hearing loss in toddlers makes communication even more troublesome. This form of hearing loss prevents children from hearing “th,” s,” “f,” “sh,” and similar sounds. As a result, a child with such a condition struggles in basic conversations as they cannot hear key sounds used in everyday speaking.

Even moderate hearing loss in toddlers can drastically affect skills development as the loudness of sounds cannot be heard. That puts these toddlers at a disadvantage compared to their peers without hearing loss. Therefore, children who may seem to have hearing-related issues should receive hearing tests as soon as possible.

Early Signs of Hearing Loss in Toddlers

Most often, children with hearing loss display a delay in understanding someone speaking to them. This delay is also seen when children try to reply to the speaker. It may take more time for a child with hearing loss to process what is said and then respond. Furthermore, when the child does reply, their speech may be unclear to the person. As the child struggles with hearing, they may think their voice is louder than when speaking.

 Other signs your child may have hearing loss are frequently asking what or seeming to misunderstand you. For example, if your child doesn’t reply when you talk to them, it may be because they cannot correctly hear you. Additionally, it may be due to hearing loss when you give your child directions to do something they do not follow.

You can monitor your child when they are watching TV, videos, or listening to something. For example, if it seems your child is turning up the volume louder than necessary, this could prove to be a sign of hearing loss. Further indications can be seen below.

  • Your child does not respond to their name when speaking at a distance
  • Your child complains of ear pain
  • Your toddler struggles to keep up academically compared to peers
  • Your child cannot hear speech through phone calls very well
  • Your child frequently misunderstands your speech
  • Your child seems to imitate actions rather than listen for directions

Hearing Loss in Toddlers Causes

todlers hand

According to the CDC, between 50% and 60% of hearing loss cases in children are due to genetic factors. Although these cases are related to the children’s genes, it does not mean the parents have hearing loss.

Genetic Hearing Loss

These genetic causes can be syndromic or non-syndromic. For example, a child with syndromic hearing loss means they have some other syndrome presenting symptoms beyond hearing-related issues. The CDC reports that roughly 30% of babies born with genetic hearing loss are syndromic.

The most common syndromes are Down Syndrome and Usher Syndrome. Although much progress has been made in learning about genetic disorders, there is still much to learn. Most genetic hearing loss cases have unknown causes, as genes can mutate and cause dysfunction.

However, the GJB2 gene is a well-known gene that, when mutated, is responsible for many of the genetic hearing loss cases in children. The gene controls the production of a protein, Connexin, that plays a significant role in the cochlea’s functionality. Mutations in this gene account for roughly 40% of hearing loss cases that are genetic and nonsyndromic.

Congenital Hearing Loss Causes

infection during pregnancy

Beyond genetics, various birth complications account for many cases of hearing loss in children. Often, infection during pregnancy can result in conditions that affect the development of a child’s hearing. These infections include herpes, measles, and toxoplasmosis.

Additionally, babies who suffer from a lack of oxygen may have complications in properly developing hearing capabilities. Children born premature and subsequently have low birth weights typically require drug treatments that increase their risk of hearing loss. 

Furthermore, if mothers take ototoxic drugs during pregnancy, their child is placed at greater risk for developing hearing loss. Ototoxic drugs include various antibiotics and pain relievers. These medications can damage the auditory nerve of unborn babies. In addition, mothers who have diabetes or use alcohol or drugs during pregnancy also place their children at a greater risk for developing hearing loss.

Other Hearing Loss Causes

Children born with normal hearing and do not have any genetic markers predisposing them to hearing loss can still develop the condition. The following list shows common causes for hearing loss in children.

  • Head trauma can damage inner ear structures.
  • Consistent or one-time exposure to a loud noise that damages inner ear hair cells
  • A perforated or damaged eardrum
  • Otitis Media—outer ear infection­— that persists in causing lasting physiological effects
  • Various bacterial or viral infections such as meningitis, mumps, measles, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes and others
  • Otosclerosis—abnormal growth of a middle ear bone
  • Ototoxic medications
  •  Otitis externa—infection of the outer ear

If you think your child exhibits any of the mentioned signs, seek medical attention. That way, a specialist can determine the cause of hearing loss. With quick detection, more treatment options will be available.

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