By the time they reach school age, one in 20 children has hearing loss in one ear, says a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Hearing loss in one ear can raise significant hurdles for the children affected, because loss of hearing in one ear harms their ability to comprehend and use language.
"For many years, paediatricians and educators thought that as long as children have one normal hearing ear, their speech and language would develop normally," says lead author Judith E. C. Lieu, MD, a Washington University ear, nose and throat specialist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
“Our study shows that, on average, children with hearing loss in one ear have poorer oral language scores than children with hearing in both ears," Lieu says.
Hearing aids needed
Children with recognised one-side hearing loss are often not fitted with hearing aids and often do not receive accommodations for their disability. This is despite the fact that a hearing aid on the bad ear would improve their hearing and their ability to comprehend and use language.
The study demonstrated the strongest prevalence of hearing loss in one ear in children who are living below the poverty level or with mothers who have little education. Poverty levels and maternal education levels are well-established influences on language skills, and hearing loss in one ear may increase that effect.
Hearing loss in one ear can stem from congenital abnormalities in the ear, head trauma or infections such as meningitis. Children with hearing loss in one ear may go undetected because they can appear to have normal hearing. Their difficulty hearing may be mistaken simply for lack of attention or selective hearing, says Lieu, assistant professor of otolaryngology.
The researchers studied 74 six to 12-year-old children with hearing loss in one ear. Each was matched with a sibling with normal hearing so that the researchers could minimise the possible effects of environmental and genetic factors on the children's language skills.