To develop spoken language, children need to be able to understand speech clearly and also to hear themselves. Your child’s hearing test differs from audiology tests for adults, as new methods must be used to suit a child’s understanding and communication. As well as this, as our hearing evolves, new frequencies can be heard — this changes how our hearing should be tested.
Although Specsavers do not offer clinical procedures for anyone under the age of 18, it is important for children to have hearing tests to identify hearing problems as early as possible as they can affect a child’s speech and language development, as well as their social skills and education.
Why are hearing tests important for children?
One to two babies in every 1,000 are born with permanent hearing loss in one or both ears, and this increases to 1 in 100 who have spent more than 48 hours in intensive care.1
This emphasises that the earlier the hearing impairment is detected, the more likely it is that treatment will be effective and hearing problems can be monitored and managed correctly.
Without routine hearing tests, there’s an increased risk of undiagnosed hearing problems, which can go months without being detected and treated.
Hearing test for kids
For older babies and children, a number of routine hearing tests are used to check for hearing impairment. These include:
Visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) - your child will sit in a chair and listen to the sounds that are presented. It’s a behavioural test that indicates your child’s hearing by reinforcing a reaction with a visual reward, for example, a toy or a lit up computer screen. It is designed for very young children aged 6 months to 2-3 years old.
Play audiometry - this is sometimes referred to as stimulus-response testing, as it’s based on your child completing a small task when a sound is heard through the headphones they are wearing. For example, once your child hears a certain sound, they will push a marble down a marble run. As the child wears headphones covering both ears for this test, individual information from both ears is obtained. This test is suitable for toddlers between the ages of 1 and a half and 5 years old.
Pure tone audiometry - often referred to as the sweep test, this test is similar to one an adult might have. A machine generates sounds at different volumes and frequencies, played through headphones, and your child is asked to press a button when these sounds are heard. This test measures the softest, or least audible, sound that your child can hear and is suitable for those aged 3 and above.
Bone conduction tests - A small vibrating device is placed behind your child’s ear, which allows sound vibrations to pass directly to the inner ear through the bones in the head, bypassing the outer and middle ear. This test is used for identifying whether a hearing loss is conductive or sensorineural. This test is suitable for children aged 5-6 and above.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss in children
Some possible signs of hearing loss in children include:
- Difficulty understanding what people are saying
- Speaking difficulties
- Misunderstanding questions
- Turning up the TV volume incredibly high, or sitting close to the TV to hear properly
- Not reacting to loud sounds
- Complaining of ear pain or earache
- Watching you intently when you speak — many children with hearing loss rely on lip reading to understand
How do I know if my child has a hearing impairment?
Although the list above includes some symptoms to look out for and can be used as guidance, if you are concerned about your child’s hearing or think they may have a hearing impairment, you should first see your GP who can refer you to an audiologist.
What causes hearing loss in children?
About 1 out of 2 cases of hearing loss in babies are due to genetic causes.2 However, there are also environmental causes — 25% or more of hearing loss in babies is due to “environmental” causes including maternal infections during pregnancy and complications after birth.3
Hearing loss in children can be common due to a build up of fluid in the ear, also known as ‘glue ear’. This condition isn’t always treated and will be based on your GPs decision as to whether they think it can clear up on its own. If not, treatment will be given and it should be back to normal within three months.
To find out more information on hearing and ear health, head to our hearing hub.
What should I do if I'm concerned about my young child's hearing?
Look out for the symptoms mentioned above, and also for a change in behaviour in your child. A child who cannot hear well communicates mainly through their mannerisms — just like a hearing child whose communication skills have not yet developed.
If you are concerned about your child's hearing, you should visit our GP guidance and talk to your GP. They will then refer them to a specialist paediatric hearing centre to be tested.
The Audiologists are very experienced in dealing with young children and will use different tests to those you would normally have as an adult.
- NHS.uk. 2021. Newborn hearing screening. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 December 2021].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. What is Hearing Loss in Children? | CDC. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 December 2021].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Genetics of Hearing Loss | CDC. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 December 2021].