Hearing loss in babies and children | Taringa turi

Key points about hearing loss in babies and children

  • Infants and children can have temporary or permanent hearing loss (taringa turi) varying from slight to profound..
  • The most common reason for hearing loss in children is middle ear inflammation (otitis media) or blocked ear canals. A few are born with permanent congenital hearing loss.
  • Early diagnosis is important because hearing loss can affect learning, concentration and communication.
  • A newborn hearing test is offered to all babies within the first month of life.
  • As a parent, you are the person most likely to notice if your child has a hearing problem – read the signs below.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you think your child is not hearing well.
Baby's hand cupping its right ear
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Video: Does your child have difficulty hearing?

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(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2018)

The most common reason for hearing loss in children is middle ear inflammation (otitis media) or blocked ear canals.

This loss of hearing:

  • results from interference in sound being conducted to the inner ear
  • may or may not be due to infection
  • is called glue ear if there is a long-term build-up of thick or sticky fluid behind the eardrum
  • may be accompanied by visible secretions leaking from the ear.

A smaller number of babies (up to 170 every year in New Zealand) are born with permanent congenital (from birth) hearing loss.

Small boy touching his ear and looking confused

Image credit: 123rf

If your child can't hear properly it can affect their learning, concentration and communication. Therefore it's important to detect any hearing loss as early as possible, ideally in the first few months. Unfortunately, many hearing problems in children are not picked up until about 3 years of age.

Research from the Ministry of Health shows that if hearing loss is diagnosed early, and you make use of the options to restore their hearing, your child is likely to have improved language, learning and social development.

For this reason, a newborn hearing test is offered to all babies within the first month of life. Make sure your baby has this simple test. If there are any delays, ask your midwife, Plunket nurse or GP to follow up. 

Read more about the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme(external link) from the National Screening Unit.

As a parent, you are the person most likely to notice if your child has a hearing problem. The sooner you discover this, the sooner your child can be tested further and treated if necessary. 

Teachers may also notice hearing problems, so it is worth checking with your child’s teacher whether they have any concerns.

The checklists below, which are only a guide, can alert you to potential problems with your child's hearing. If you are worried, print out the checklist, take it to your doctor or nurse and ask about getting your child's hearing tested.

At 4–6 weeks: When there is a sudden loud noise, does your baby ...

  • jump or blink?
  • stir in their sleep?
  • stop sucking for a moment?
  • look up from sucking?
  • cry?

At 8–10 weeks: When there is a sudden loud noise, does your baby ...

  • jump or blink?
  • stir in their sleep?
  • stop sucking for a moment?
  • look up from sucking?
  • cry?

At 3–4 months: Does your baby …

  • blink or cry when there is a sudden noise?
  • stop crying or sucking when you talk?
  • wake or stir to loud sounds?
  • coo or smile when you talk?
  • turn their eyes toward voices?
  • seem to like a musical toy?
  • stop moving when there is a new sound?
  • seem to know your voice?

At 5–7 months: Does your baby ...

  • turn toward a sound or someone speaking?
  • cry when there is a sudden noise?
  • like music?
  • make lots of different babbling sounds?
  • sometimes copy sounds you make?

At 9–12 months: Does your baby ...

  • respond to their own name?
  • look around to find new sounds, even quiet sounds?
  • understand 'no' and 'bye-bye'?
  • listen when people talk?
  • like copying sounds?
  • use babbling that sounds like real speech?
  • try to talk back when you talk?

At 15–18 months: Does your child …

  • point to people and things they know when asked to?
  • copy or repeat simple words or sounds?
  • understand things like ‘come here’?
  • use their voice to get attention?
  • say 2 or 3 words?
  • listen when people talk?

At 2–3 years: Does your child …

  • do 2 things when asked, like ‘get the ball and bring it here’?
  • repeat what you say? continually learn new words?
  • say simple sentences with 2 or more words in them?
  • use many words that non-family members can understand?
  • speak clearly so that everyone can understand?
  • ask lots of ‘what’ or ‘why’ questions?

At 5 years: Does your child …

  • tell a long, clear story about things they have done?
  • speak well, with only a few sounds wrong, like ‘r’ or ‘s’?
  • know what things are for (like hat, apple or plate)?
  • like books and being read to?
  • understand most of what you say?

Source: The WellChild/Tamariki Ora My Health Book(external link) HealthEd, NZ, 2010

Talk to your nurse or doctor if you think your child is not hearing well.

Read more about testing for hearing loss in children.

Newborn hearing screening(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme(external link) National Screening Unit, NZ
Hearing and vision checks for babies(external link) KidsHealth, NZ
Hearing and vision checks for preschool children(external link) KidsHealth, NZ
Hearing and vision checks for school-age children(external link) KidsHealth, NZ
Free hearing checks for children(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
Equipment for children and young people who are Deaf or have hearing loss(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
Cochlear implants(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
Education for children with hearing loss(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ
Hearing health checklist(external link) NZ Audiology Society

Resources

Newborn hearing screening – your baby's hearing screen(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2015 available in the following languages: English(external link), te reo Māori(external link), Sāmoan(external link), Tongan(external link), Chinese Simplified(external link), Chinese Traditional(external link), Hindi(external link), Korean(external link)
Newborn hearing screening – referral to an audiologist(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2016 English(external link), te reo Māori(external link), Sāmoan(external link), Tongan(external link), Chinese Simplified(external link), Chinese Traditional(external link), Hindi(external link), Korean(external link)
Repeat newborn hearing screen(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2008
Newborn hearing screening results(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2022 English(external link), te reo Māori(external link), Tongan(external link), Samoan(external link), Korean(external link), Hindi(external link), Chinese (simplified)(external link), Chinese (traditional)(external link)
Your hearing aids(external link) Oticon, NZ available in the following languages: te reo Māori(external link)Samoan(external link)Tongan(external link)
Keeping an eye on your child's hearing(external link) B4 School Hearing Screening, Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017 available in the following languages: English(external link)Chinese (simplified)(external link)Chinese (traditional)(external link)Hindi(external link), Korean(external link), te reo Māori(external link)Samoan(external link)Tongan(external link)

Find your nearest audiologist(external link)
Find your nearest hearing therapist(external link)

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Arna Letica, FRNZCGP, Auckland

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