Frequently asked questions about hearing

Parents frequently have questions about their child's hearing and speech-language development. With the help of an audiologist or speech-language pathologist, it is possible to evaluate your child's hearing, speech and language skills.

Common questions about hearing

What causes hearing loss or hearing disorders?

Causes of hearing loss may include: 

  • Family history 
  • Health problems at birth 
  • Genetic disorders 
  • Syndromes 
  • Certain types of drug therapies 
  • Persistent middle ear fluid or chronic ear infections 
  • Exposure to loud noise 
  • Head trauma

What should I do if I have concerns about my child's hearing?

If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, contact central scheduling at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin at (414) 607-5280 or (877) 607-5280. Let them know you would like to make an appointment for a hearing test with a specialist in our audiology program.

Who will test my child's hearing?

If you come for an appointment, a pediatric audiologist will evaluate your child's hearing. He or she will determine the type of hearing test your child should receive based on his or her age and developmental level. The audiologist may also make referrals to an ear, nose and throat physician (otolaryngologist) or a speech-language pathologist.

How old does my child have to be to have a hearing test?

It is never too early to test your child's hearing. In fact, your baby should have a hearing screening at birth before leaving the hospital. If your baby was or will be born in a hospital that does not screen newborns for hearing loss, ask your pediatrician to arrange for your baby's hearing screening. Early hearing screening is important because proper hearing is key to your child's speech and language development and overall learning.

What are common types of hearing tests for children? 

  • Immittance testing is an important and painless test that provides the audiologist with information regarding eardrum mobility and middle ear function. The audiologist will explain that he or she will take a "picture" of your child's ear. He or she will then place a small plastic tip in your child's ear to make an airtight seal. With special equipment, the audiologist will make changes in air pressure and take measurements with an instrument called a tympanometer. If your child has ear tubes, this test helps determine if the tubes are in place, open and working properly. If your child does not have tubes, this test helps to determine if there are any signs of fluid or other problems in the middle ear. Reflex action of the ear, called acoustic reflexes, also are measured.
  • Visual reinforcement audiometry is typically done between 6 months and approximately 3 years of age. In a special booth, your child will sit on his or her parent's lap. There will be speakers on either side of your child. Using special equipment, the test administrator will transmit speech and different sound pitches at precisely measured loudness levels. When your child hears the voice or sounds though the speakers and looks in the direction of the sound, an animated light-up toy appears. Using this type of visual reinforcement, the child eventually learns to look towards the source or direction of the sound when he or she hears it. This test helps the audiologist determine the loudness levels necessary for your child to hear.
  • Conditioned play audiometry is typically used with children who are 3 to 5 years of age. During testing, your child will wear headphones, and we will transmit different sound pitches. We will teach your child to perform a task, such as placing a block in a bucket, every time he or she hears a sound. In addition, we may evaluate your child's ability to hear and understand speech. In this case, the audiologist transmits words at different loudness levels, and your child must demonstrate whether he or she heard and understood the word by pointing to a picture or by repeating the word back to the audiologist. This test allows the audiologist to determine the quality of hearing in each ear. 
  • Bone conduction testing evaluates the inner ear (cochlea) portion of the ear. We will place a small vibrating device is behind your child's ear and ask him or her to repeat or identify words or to respond to sounds of different pitches. Bone conduction testing can help identify what type of hearing loss exists.