May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which raises awareness about communication disorders, such as hearing loss and speech disorders. As Rainbows’ Audiologist, I enjoy educating our families about the importance of hearing during early intervention services. It’s encouraging to leave a home visit knowing our families have a better understanding of the value of hearing and hearing health. To celebrate this annual event, I wanted to share some frequently asked questions from parents regarding hearing along with the answers.
1. What does an Audiologist do, specifically for Rainbows?
That is a common question I get from parents, especially when I visit families to do hearing screenings. Some examples of what I do for Rainbows include: Overseeing our Infant/Toddler Services hearing screening program and training our speech therapists to become hearing screeners and help conduct hearing screenings for families. I also provide support for families with hearing-impaired children and answer their questions about hearing loss and hearing devices.
2. What happens during a hearing screening?
There are three assessments that I perform during the hearing screening. First, we do a Otoacoustic Emissions test, or OAE, which measures the functionality of a hearing organ called the cochlea. Next, we do a Tympanometry test which measures the movement of the eardrum and to check if anything is behind the eardrum (fluid or an ear infection). Finally, I will perform an inspection inside the ear with an otoscope to check the health of the ear canal and eardrum.
3. What is the difference between a hearing screening and hearing test?
A hearing screening is a quick test that measures hearing functionality from the ears. Results will indicate either a pass (hearing loss is not detected) or a fail (further testing is needed). A hearing evaluation is a complete hearing test. Results will indicate what type of hearing your child may have or determine if a hearing loss is present.
4. After a newborn hearing screening, should my infant/toddler get their hearing checked yearly?
Quality hearing is so vital during early childhood development. Hearing impacts speech, language and social skills. As a rule of thumb, I recommend a child get their hearing checked at least once a year to monitor their hearing development and to make sure they are accomplishing early intervention milestones for hearing. Also, an annual hearing exam helps to identify the children that are experiencing signs of fluid buildup behind the eardrum or signs of an ear infection.
5. Is there a difference between fluid behind the ear and an ear infection?
They are pretty close, because both can affect not only hearing, but speech and language development. However, there is a difference. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. It is caused by allergies, colds or respiratory infections. Otitis media occurs when fluid behind the eardrum gets infected by bacteria. So, fluid behind the eardrum is not considered an ear infection, however it needs to monitored by a primary doctor to make sure the fluid gets drained out.
If you think your child is not hearing well, be sure to express your concern and request a hearing screening by your pediatrician or your child’s school.
Written by Patrick Washington, Doctor of Audiology, AuD, CCC-A