What to do if your child fails a hearing test

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No matter how old your child, receiving the news that he or she failed a hearing test is enough to shock you. You’re likely to question it, to wonder if that could possibly be true, or maybe, particularly if your child is no longer a baby, it’s something you’ve suspected yourself.

Children are screened for hearing impairments when they’re newborns and then again usually before they enter kindergarten. If a hearing loss is suspected, for example your child “failed” the test, he or she typically is referred to an audiologist for a complete hearing evaluation.

When failure isn’t really failure

Barb Mackey, an audiologist with St. Elizabeth Healthcare, said many kindergarten-age kids who are referred to her end up being OK (or “passing”). There are many reasons a child might fail the hearing test in the doctor’s office but pass when they receive a hearing test by an audiologist.

“A lot of times the doctor’s office can be noisy, so they can’t hear the tones well, or maybe the child doesn’t have the attention span to sit still and concentrate on the tones that long,” Mackey said. There are tests such as repeating words that are easier for kids to perform in a complete hearing test performed by an audiologist. Additionally, fluid in the ear could lead to a failed hearing test in the doctor’s office, which could be treated, making the hearing loss temporary.

“There are many reasons why a child might fail but it’s not a true fail,” Mackey said. “But it’s also a possibility that there is an actual hearing loss and it needs to be investigated.”

The most common reason doctors refer children to audiologists for hearing screenings is because of a speech or language delay, Mackey said. It’s important to rule out a hearing impairment prior to speech and language therapy.

What’s next?

If a hearing loss is identified after an audiologist’s evaluation, it will be classified as either a conductive hearing loss (middle or outer ear) or sensorineural hearing loss (inner ear), Mackey said. Often, conductive hearing losses can be treated with medicine or surgery, whereas a sensorineural hearing loss requires amplification (hearing aids). If a child needs hearing aids, it’s really in the hands of the parents to determine how successful they will be with their impairment.

“It is a loss,” she said. “When a parent is informed that his or her child has a permanent hearing loss, there is an adjustment period, but much has to do with the parents’ attitude toward the loss of hearing. Kids who are diagnosed early, aided early and wear their hearing aids consistently are going to do better throughout their whole life.”