Some degree of hearing loss is quite common in children with Down’s Syndrome and it is important to find out if your child has a hearing loss as early as possible so that social and language development are not affected. Throughout childhood their hearing should be tested regularly.
The first step is to make an appointment with your family doctor (GP) who will refer you to a specialist audiology service for hearing tests. There are a variety of tests that can determine how much hearing your child has, and these are a combination of objective hearing assessments and behavioural hearing assessments. The tests are designed to engage the child and be fun, often using toys and play as part of the test. Speech discrimination tests check the child’s ability to hear words at different listening levels, aimed to determine the quietest level at which a child can correctly identify words used.
Tympanometry is another test that checks how well the moving parts of the middle ear are working using a small earpiece held gently in the ear canal. This test is often used to determine the condition known as glue ear. Glue ear is a build-up of fluid in the middle ear and can be quite common in Down’s syndrome, (approx. 60-70% of children) causing a degree of conductive hearing loss. It is more common in children with Down’s syndrome in their early years because the eustachian tube that links the throat and middle ear is small and remains small throughout their life. Glue ear can be treated and often grommets are inserted into the eardrum to help drain the fluid. Sometimes antibiotics are used to treat glue ear if it is caused by an ear infection.
Other hearing issues that can occur in children with Down’s Syndrome include sensorineural deafness, occurring in 10-15% of children. Earwax is also a common problem as the ear canals are narrow and become easily blocked causing difficulty with hearing. Hyperacusis, sensitivity to noise, can be a problem in some children and causes distress in situations with a lot of background noise.
If your child is diagnosed with a hearing loss, then hearing tests should be repeated regularly every 3-6 months when they are young or yearly in older children. If you are concerned your child is not hearing, then do not delay but seek expert advice from an audiologist or ENT specialist. At Aston Hearing we have expertise in paediatric hearing assessments and can offer advice and support if you get in touch. See our website www.astonhearing.co.uk for details or call 01494 733840.
You can also find out more information from the DSA www.downs-syndrome.org.uk or call their helpline on 0333 1212 300, Mon-Fri 10:00 am – 4pm.