Many people operate under the misconception that hearing loss is limited to the aging population. In fact, hearing loss occurs at all ages and is occurring more often in younger generations than ever before.

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. As children age, they are at a higher risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss, due to exposure to loud music through earbuds and loud noises in recreational environments.

If you believe your child has hearing loss, it is important to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.

An audiologist can employ many different types of tests to evaluate a child’s hearing. The type of testing an audiologist will use depends on the child’s age, development and health status.

Behavioral tests

Children who have a harder time sitting, 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 types of behavioral tests, speech is played at a particular volume and intensity. With careful observation, the audiologist will be able 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 sounds scary, it’s actually easy and pain-free; children even sometimes sleep during the procedure. During the test, clicking noises are sent through the earphones. The electrodes on the child’s head then measure the hearing nerve’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 evaluation, 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. Pulsing sounds are transmitted into the ear while the probe records a response. A computer will gather the data and create an average, which will help determine the type and degree of hearing loss a child has. 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. Talk more with your child’s audiologist to determine what tests will be conducted to detect hearing loss.