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All Ears: Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss has profound consequences for a child's development and can lead to delayed intellectual, social, speech, language, and academic development. The CDC estimates that 15% of children ages 6 to 19 have a hearing loss of at least 16 decibels in one or both ears while around .1% have severe hearing loss. Even unilateral hearing loss has a significant effect on school performance with studies showing that anywhere from 25 to 35% of children with hearing loss in only one ear are at risk of failing at least one grade level. Early and ongoing attention to language development and literacy skill development is essential for age-appropriate language outcomes, and for the effects of hearing loss on skill development and socialization to be prevented, it first is necessary to identify children with hearing loss.

School-based hearing screenings are one of the most important tools used to identify students with hearing loss who may not have been identified at birth, lost to follow-up, or who may have only recently developed hearing loss. Failing a school-based hearing screening requires further audiological and/or medical evaluation for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan, but understanding the most common types of hearing loss is integral to supporting all students.

Conductive Impairments

Conductive hearing loss occurs when something blocks sound waves from reaching the inner ear. The most common type of hearing loss in children, it’s often the result of an injury to the outer ear, eardrum, or damage to the middle ear, but can also be caused by wax buildup, foreign bodies, fluid buildup, or ear infections. Treatment for conductive hearing loss, depending on the cause, includes medication, surgery, or, in some cases, hearing aids.

Sensorineural Hearing Impairment

Sensorineural hearing loss is a type of impairment that results from pathology in the inner ear or along the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain stem. ​​It can be hereditary, part of a genetic syndrome, or caused by certain infections or medications that impair the inner ear or nerves. Sensorineural hearing loss is most typically treated with hearing aids or hearing implants.

Mixed Hearing Impairment

When an individual has a combination of both sensorineural and conductive impairments, it is referred to as mixed hearing loss. A common example is fluid in the middle ear on top of an underlying issue resulting in damage to the inner ear. Treating mixed hearing loss therefore requires a combination of different approaches: pharmacological, surgical, and assistive. 

Learning barriers associated with any type or severity of hearing loss have variable effects on students but the research is clear that early identification, treatment, and appropriate school support provide the best opportunity for every student to develop academically, emotionally, and socially.

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