A study by researchers at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis has found that children with hearing loss in one ear due to a certain deformity can struggle in school and socially because of it.
The condition studied, aural atresia, refers to the absence or incomplete formation of an external ear canal. Of the children studied with that condition, about 40 percent needed speech therapy and a quarter have difficulties in school.
Doctor Judith Lieu, an Associate Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says one problem is hearing loss in one ear is often ignored because one working ear is thought to be enough for a child to learn and develop properly.
“We don’t want to have the assumption that [children] will do just fine in school and do just fine in terms of speech and language just because one ear hears normally.”
Lieu says this study suggests that adults need to take hearing loss in one ear of a child more seriously.
“We need to be vigilant, and as adults … parents, teachers, physicians … that we can help these children if they appear to be struggling or if they have some of these issues and think about that ear deformity or the hearing loss in the one ear as potentially playing a part in it.”
Lieu says such children might be perceived as “trouble students” as a result of their hearing problems.
“It can be quite noisy in a classroom when kids are busy and talking and chatting and if they are unable to hear well, they may be unable to pick out the teacher’s voice calling them back to attention or calling them back to a task, and so they may just proceed on and be perceived as not paying attention or not listening and having some behavioral issues.”
Lieu says once the problem is identified and recognized there are effective ways to deal with it, but she says more study is needed to determine how aggressively hearing loss in one ear of a child should be treated.
“I don’t want to state that every child needs a hearing aid when I know that hearing aid fitting is not a trivial thing and trying to teach a child to wear it, especially with the current cultural stigmas associated with a hearing device, I don’t want to make it so that every child has to wear it if it doesn’t help them.”
Further complicating matters, Lieu says, is that most private insurance will not cover hearing aids or devices.
“Children are more likely to receive a hearing aid or a device if they have Medicaid because it’s perceived to be a sensory issue so it’s kind of tied to disability, however that’s not universal.”
Lieu hopes to continue some of the additional study that she believes is needed, but says right now funding is difficult to come by because funding agencies don’t consider it a priority and federal research dollars are tight.
The research has been published in JAMA Otolaryngology.