While it is rare, some infants are either born with a degree of hearing loss, or, due to their environment or an illness, can develop it while still at a very young age. Risk factors for infant hearing loss include a family history of hearing loss and low birth weight, but the presence of these two factors doesn’t mean your baby will have trouble hearing. However, if you suspect hearing trouble, it’s essential that you get help as soon as possible since even mild hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to learn to speak.
Whether you are the parent or caregiver of an infant, or you’re about to become one, knowing the signs of hearing loss in an infant can help ensure you get treatment as quickly as possible if a problem arises — even from day one. While most hospitals routinely test newborns’ hearing, if a baby in your care was not tested at birth, contact an audiologist for assistance so any troubles are quickly handled. And in the meantime, here are seven signs of hearing loss to watch out for in infants.
1. Not Startled by Loud Noises
Babies startle easily at unexplained loud noises, and while a baby in the middle of a deep sleep may not respond to that 6 a.m. dump truck picking up a metal garbage can the way you do, being routinely unaffected by loud noises isn’t normal. If it becomes apparent that your baby doesn’t notice loud sounds by responding to them with a visible start, she may have some hearing trouble that needs to be addressed. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist right away.
2. Ignores Your Voice
Babies love the sound of their caregivers’ voices — especially their mothers’. After all, it was their mother’s voice they heard most frequently in the womb. Regardless of who is caring for them after they’re born, a baby with hearing in the normal range will respond to voices, whether or not they’re directed at him. If you are a primary caregiver of your infant, and he doesn’t seem affected by your voice at all, he may have problems hearing.
3. Familiar Voices Can’t Calm
Being a baby can be a very frightening experience. The world is entirely new, and each moment may bring the brand-new and unfamiliar into your baby’s line of sight, smell, or feel. For an infant who is afraid or upset, familiar voices can be very calming — unless, of course, those familiar voices can’t be heard. If your baby can’t be calmed by the sound of your voice when she’s upset, it may be that she can’t hear you properly.
4. No Smile/Speak Connection
Babies love attention, and when they’re spoken to with direct eye contact, they smile or even coo in response to that engagement. While it can take a few months for babies to smile and register other emotional facial responses, by the time an infant is four or five months, smiling in response to being spoken to is normal. If your child isn’t doing this, get in touch with an audiologist.
5. Absence of Vowel Sounds
All babies make sounds, even those with hearing trouble, but a baby who hears within a normal range should make a lot of different sounds, including vowel sounds. By about two months of age, a baby should be making vowel sounds like “O” on a regular basis. Any absence of such sounds could indicate a problem.
6. Lack of Interest in Unseen Sounds
Babies are curious by nature, and when they hear something they can’t see, they work hard to find it by turning their heads or bodies toward the sound. If you notice that the child in your care doesn’t seem interested in sounds that are out of his line of sight, the problem might not be lack of interest. Consider, instead, that he may not actually be able to hear the sound at all.
7. Noisemakers Hold No Appeal
Much to weary parents’ chagrin, most infants love rattles, bells, electronic noisemakers, car keys, and anything else noisy. If your baby doesn’t find these toys interesting, it might not be because she has better taste than other babies. It may be that their lack of appeal might actually be due to a hearing problem.
Identifying hearing loss in an infant can be difficult, because they have no way of letting you know about such troubles. However, there are signs that you can keep an eye out for so that, in the event of hearing loss, you can quickly address a baby’s needs.