Normal hearing is essential to a child’s development in the preschool years. Hearing loss in a young child is one of two types, i.e. sensori-neural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss.
Sensori-neural hearing loss, otherwise known as “nerve deafness”, occurs when there is a problem with processing the sound stimulus by the inner ear. This type of hearing loss cannot be improved except by the wearing of a hearing aid ,which can sometimes be beneficial.
Fortunately, sensori-neural hearing loss is rare in children.
Conductive hearing loss, on the other hand, is far more common in preschool children. It occurs as a result of an impairment in the conduction of sound to the inner ear. The most common cause of this is fluid in the middle ear, also known as “glue ear”.
The middle ear is normally filled with air, so this fluid impairs the conduction of sound. This causes hearing loss which is often intermittent and/or seasonal.
The hearing loss may be intermittent because the level of fluid may change in the middle ear, for example, depending on whether or not a child has an ear infection.
It may be seasonal because children are a lot more prone to ear infections in the winter months.
It is worth pointing out that fluid can also occur in the middle ear, causing conductive deafness, in the absence of an accompanying ear infection.
Conductive hearing loss is common in preschoolers because of the position of the eustachian tube in this age group.
The eustachian tube joins the middle ear to the back of the throat and allows air to enter the middle ear while any fluid drains away.
In a young child, the eustachian tube is nearly horizontal and becomes more vertical as the child grows. For this reason, drainage of middle ear fluid does not occur as efficiently in the preschool child as it does in the older child.
Small drains, called “grommets”, can be surgically inserted into the eardrum. This procedure removes middle ear fluid in children whose hearing is affected over a period of time.
However, in most instances, the child will simply grow out of the problem without surgical intervention.
In conclusion, conductive hearing loss is likely to resolve spontaneously in the majority of children who present with this condition. Surgical insertion of grommets to drain middle ear fluid can be done for those children in whom the condition is chronic.