Many people think that hearing loss is limited to the aging population. While more and more elderly are at risk for developing hearing loss, it does, in fact, affect younger people too. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, between two and three of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. The Centers for Disease Control report that 12,000 new infants are born deaf or hard of hearing each year.

If you believe your child has hearing loss or is at risk of developing hearing loss due to extreme noise exposure, it is important to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.

An audiologist is a type of doctor who specializes in the testing, diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss. An audiologist will use many different types of tests to evaluate a child’s hearing, determining the type and degree of hearing loss in each ear. The type of testing an audiologist will use depends on the child’s age, development and health status.

Behavioral tests for hearing

Children who have a may have difficulty sitting but can provide an oral response, such as older toddlers and young kids, still will typically undergo behavioral tests. Types of behavioral tests include:

  • Pure-tone test
  • Calibrated speech test

During these tests, speech is played at varying volumes and intensities. The audiologist uses observation to detect a degree of hearing loss in the child, by seeing how they react.

Auditory brainstem response tests

Infants and very young toddlers will often undergo auditory brainstem response tests. During this test, miniature earphones are placed in the child’s ear canals while small electrodes are placed behind the ears and on the forehead. While the test like it’s from science fiction movie, it’s actually easy and pain-free. Children can even be asleep while the test occurs. During the test, clicking noises are sent through the earphones. The electrodes on the child’s head then measure the brain’s response to the stimulus.

Auditory steady state response

An auditory steady state response test is similar to the auditory brainstem response test. During this test, sound is sent into the ear canals while a computer detects the brain’s response. The test is so precise that the computer can automatically detect whether a child’s hearing loss is mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Otoacoustic emissions

During an otoacoustic emissions test, a tiny probe will be placed into the child’s ear canal. Small, pulsing sounds are sent into the ear to see if the tiny ear hairs within the canal detect the sound. If they do, the audiologist will detect an echo reverberating back. This test is suitable for older children and teenagers who are ok with more invasive (though still pain-free) procedures.

Other tests

Additional types of hearing loss evaluations include central auditory evoked potential, tympanometry and middle ear muscle reflex tests.