Hearing Loss in Infants

Infant hearing loss is a condition in which a baby has difficulty hearing sounds. It can range from mild to profound, and it can affect one or both ears. It can be present at birth (congenital) or develop later in infancy.

Infant hearing loss can be harder to recognize than hearing loss in older children. Still, it is possible to diagnose and treat hearing loss at an early age as it is standard practice to screen newborns for hearing loss prior to discharge from the hospital.

Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss is usually caused by fluid or an infection behind the eardrum and can be treated by a physician or may clear on its own. Permanent hearing loss and is typically treated by using a hearing device. The frequently asked questions below, answered by Lurie Children’s experts in pediatric audiology, will focus on permanent hearing loss.

What are signs of infant hearing loss?

Signs of hearing loss in infants can include:

  • Baby does not startle or respond to loud sounds.
  • Baby does not turn toward a sound after age six months.
  • Baby turns his or her head when they see you but does not turn if you only call his or her name.
  • Baby seems to hear some sounds and not others.
  • Baby’s babbling does do not evolve and is not saying single words such as “dad” or “mama” by one year of age.

What are causes of infant hearing loss?

  • Genetic factors: About 50% of cases of congenital hearing loss are caused by genetic factors.
  • Neonatal intensive care (NICU) longer than 5 days: Risk factors may include prematurity, jaundice requiring a blood transfusion and lack of oxygen at birth.
  • Prenatal infections: Infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and rubella during pregnancy can damage the developing inner ear.
  • Certain medications: Some medications, such as certain antibiotics and diuretics, can be toxic to the inner ear and cause hearing loss.

How is infant hearing loss diagnosed?

  • Newborn hearing screening: All newborns in the U.S. are screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. If there are known risk factors for hearing loss, the screening should be repeated.
  • Audiological evaluation: If a baby does not pass the newborn hearing screening, they will need a more comprehensive audiological evaluation to determine the type and severity of hearing loss. Lurie Children’s pediatric audiologists offer comprehensive care to children and young adults from infancy to age 21 using state-of-the-art audiological services to diagnose and manage children with hearing loss.

What are treatments for infant hearing loss? 

  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids can amplify sounds and help babies hear better.
  • Cochlear implants: In some cases, cochlear implants may be an option for babies with hearing loss. Lurie Children’s Cochlear Implant Program is one of the largest and most experienced pediatric programs in the world. Our surgeons have performed more than 2,000 cochlear implant procedures since the program began in 1991 under the leadership of Dr. Nancy Young.
  • Early Intervention: Early Intervention services, such as speech therapy and auditory training, can help babies with hearing loss develop language and communication skills.

What is the long-term outlook for infants with hearing loss?

With early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and ongoing support, the long-term outlook for infants with hearing loss is generally very good. The sooner hearing loss is identified and treated, the better the chances of achieving positive results in language and social development. Access to hearing aids or cochlear implants, along with therapy such as speech and auditory training is key. Supportive and involved parents/guardians are also vital for a child’s success.

Learn more about cochlear implantation and pediatric audiology at Lurie Children’s.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Get health tips from our pediatric experts, news about ground-breaking research, and feel-good moments delivered right to your inbox.

Subscribe Now

Additional Blog Posts

Bedwetting in Kids

Bedwetting is a common issue, affecting millions of children. Learn about causes, how to help your child stay dry at night and when to talk to a healthcare provider.

Read More

Measles in Kids: Symptoms & Prevention

The recent measles outbreak has many parents and caregivers concerned. Our experts share what you need to know about measles in kids.

Read More

Rare Disease Day Invites You to Show Your Stripes®

Learn about Rare Disease Day, observed globally to raise awareness and support individuals and families affected by rare health conditions. Explore challenges, resources, and Lurie Children's Hospital's efforts in rare disease diagnosis, treatment, and research.

Read More