Treatment and Intervention for Hearing Loss

Key points

  • No single treatment or intervention for hearing loss is the answer for every child or family.
  • Intervention plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and any changes needed along the way.
  • There are many different options for children with hearing loss and their families.
Toddler using American Sign Language

Treatment and intervention overview

Treatment and intervention options for hearing loss in children include

  • Working with a professional (or team) who can help a child and family learn to communicate.
  • Getting a hearing device, such as a hearing aid.
  • Joining support groups.
  • Taking advantage of other resources available to children with a hearing loss and their families.

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Programs

Every state has an EHDI program. EHDI works to identify infants and children with hearing loss. EHDI also promotes timely follow-up testing and intervention services for any family whose child has a hearing loss.

Important tip‎

If your child has a hearing loss or if you have any concerns about your child's hearing, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO or contact your local EHDI program coordinator to find available services in your state.

Treatment and intervention types

Intervention Services

Early Intervention (0-3 years)

Hearing loss can affect a child's ability to develop speech, language, and social skills. The earlier a child who is deaf or hard-of-hearing starts getting services, the more likely the child's communication (speech or sign language) and social skills will reach their full potential.

Early intervention program services help young children with hearing loss learn communication and other important skills. Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child's development.

Babies who are diagnosed with hearing loss should begin to get intervention services as soon as possible, but no later than 6 months of age.

There are many services available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004 (IDEA 2004). Services for children from birth through 36 months of age are called Early Intervention or Part C services. Even if your child has not been diagnosed with a hearing loss, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The IDEA 2004 says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.

Special Education (3-22 years)

Special education is instruction specifically designed to address the educational and related developmental needs of older children with disabilities, or those who are experiencing developmental delays. Services for these children are provided through the public school system. These services are available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004 (IDEA 2004), Part B.

Assistive Technology

Many people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have some hearing. The amount of hearing a deaf or hard-of-hearing person has is called "residual hearing." Technology does not "cure" hearing loss but may help a child with hearing loss to make the most of their residual hearing. For those parents who choose to have their child use technology, there are many options, including

  • Hearing aids
  • Cochlear or brainstem implants
  • Bone-anchored hearing aids
  • Other assistive devices

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids make sounds louder. They can be worn by people of any age, including infants. Babies with hearing loss may understand sounds better using hearing aids. This may give them the chance to learn speech skills at a young age.

There are many styles of hearing aids. They can help many types of hearing losses. A young child is usually fitted with behind-the-ear style hearing aids because they are better suited to growing ears.

A family with an infant visits the audiologist to have their child fitted for a hearing aid.
Families and caregivers can learn about many different options for children with hearing loss

Cochlear and Auditory Brainstem Implants

A cochlear implant may help many children with severe to profound hearing loss—even very young children. It gives that child a way to hear when a hearing aid is not enough. Unlike a hearing aid, cochlear implants do not make sounds louder. A cochlear implant sends sound signals directly to the hearing nerve.

Persons with severe to profound hearing loss due to an absent or very small hearing nerve or severely abnormal inner ear (cochlea), may not benefit from a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Instead an auditory brainstem implant may provide some hearing. An auditory brainstem implant directly stimulates the hearing pathways in the brainstem, bypassing the inner ear and hearing nerve.

Both cochlear and brainstem implants have two main parts. There are the parts that are placed inside the inner ear, the cochlea, or base of the brain, the brainstem during surgery; and the parts outside the ear that send sounds to the parts inside the ear.

Bone-Anchored Hearing Aids

This type of hearing aid can be considered when a child has either a conductive, mixed, or unilateral hearing loss and is specifically suitable for children who cannot otherwise wear ‘in the ear’ or ‘behind the ear’ hearing aids.

Other Assistive Devices

Besides hearing aids, there are other devices that help people with hearing loss. Examples of other assistive devices include

Frequency Modulation (FM) System. An FM system is a device that helps people with hearing loss hear in background noise. FM is the same type of signal used for radios. These systems send sound from a microphone used by someone speaking to a person wearing the receiver. FM is sometimes used with hearing aids. An extra piece is attached to the hearing aid that works with the FM system.

Captioning. Many television programs, videos, and DVDs are captioned. Television sets made after 1993 are made to show the captioning. You don't have to buy anything special. Captions show the conversation spoken in soundtrack of a program on the bottom of the television screen.

Other devices. There are many other devices available for children with hearing loss. Some of these include

  • Text messaging
  • Telephone amplifiers
  • Flashing and vibrating alarms
  • Audio loop systems
  • Infrared listening devices
  • Portable sound amplifiers
  • TTY (Text Telephone or teletypewriter)

Medications and Surgery

Medications or surgery may also help make the most of a person’s hearing. This is especially true for a conductive hearing loss, or one that involves a part of the outer or middle ear that is not working in the usual way.

One type of conductive hearing loss can be caused by a chronic ear infection. A chronic ear infection is a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear space. Most ear infections are managed with medication or careful monitoring. Infections that don't go away with medication can be treated with a simple surgery that involves putting a tiny tube into the eardrum to drain the fluid out.

Another type of conductive hearing loss is caused by either the outer and or middle ear not forming correctly while the baby was growing in the mother's womb. Both the outer and middle ear need to work together in order for sound to be sent correctly to the inner ear. If any of these parts did not form correctly, there might be a hearing loss in that ear. This problem may be improved and perhaps even corrected with surgery. An ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) is the health care professional who usually takes care of this problem.

Placing a cochlear implant, auditory brainstem implant, or bone-anchored hearing aid will also require a surgery.

Learning Language

Without extra help, children with hearing loss have problems learning language. These children can then be at risk for other delays. Families who have children with hearing loss often need to change their communication habits or learn special skills (such as sign language) to help their children learn language. These skills can be used together with hearing aids, cochlear or auditory brainstem implants, and other devices that help children hear.

Family Support Services

For many parents, their child's hearing loss is unexpected. Parents sometimes need time and support to adapt to the child's hearing loss.

Parents of children with recently identified hearing loss can seek different kinds of support. Support is anything that helps a family and may include advice, information, having the chance to get to know other parents that have a child with hearing loss, locating a deaf mentor, finding childcare or transportation, giving parents time for personal relaxation or just a supportive listener.