Based on data collected from academic studies, laboratory settings, parents, teachers, and children who experience unilateral hearing loss (UHL), it has become clear that this type of hearing loss raises the risk of children having psychoeducational difficulties and other obstacles that are associated with it.
Studies conducted within the past several decades has led to learning more about the impact that UHL has on children. One of the earliest studies that help foster this research showed that children who experience permanent UHL are much more likely to have academic and behavioral problems than their peers who had healthy hearing abilities. Children with UHL are at a higher risk of having problems with speech and language, cognitive function, and balance than their peers with normal hearing. About 50% of children with UHL have been shown to have academic difficulties that would require tutoring or therapy.
General Information on UHL
There are different degrees of UHL in children. UHL is any amount of hearing loss in the impaired ear with average air-conduction thresholds in the normal hearing ear (≤15 dB of hearing loss). Profound unilateral hearing loss is also known as single-sided deafness (SSD). This term implies that there is profound hearing loss in one ear and/or significantly poor ability in speech perception, which restricts the use of that ear. In this article, the term UHL will be used to represent all degrees of UHL, unless noted otherwise.
Early studies showed that the majority of children who had UHL were identified when they were 4 to 6 years of age, or when they started attending school. In recent years, approximately 97% of infants that were born in the U.S. have been screened for hearing loss shortly after being born. About 1 in 1,000 are diagnosed with UHL. This makes up 43% of children who have UHL and are identified with hearing loss before they reach 6 months of age. When children reach school age, the pervasiveness rises to about 3 to 6 per 100 and 14 per 100 when they are adolescents.
The increase in how common hearing loss is among those between the newborn period and school-age period could be due to progressive or late onset of hearing loss, and the undetected minimal or mild degrees of UHL because newborn screenings are not designed to detect those types of hearing loss.
The cause of UHL is still unknown. Among 31-54% of children with UHL, there are no risk or correlated factors identified.
Studies have indicated that UHL may become progressive and bilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears) could develop in 7-11% of cases. Therefore, it’s important to monitor the hearing health of individuals with UHL.
What are the possible impacts of UHL?
The immediate repercussions of UHL are losing binaural function. This can make it harder to identify speech sounds while there’s background noise and it may also be difficult to determine where sounds are emanating from. The loss of interaural time and level differences can lead to safety concerns for children with UHL who rely on cues to navigate the streets. Also, failing to identify the source of a speaker will most likely delay contact with relevant visual cues that improve perception in speech. The lack of binaural cues, like binaural suppression, can adversely affect the ability to comprehend speech when there is too much background noise. This may interfere with how you socially interact with others and impact language acquisition and learning.
As previously mentioned, in the early 1980s and 1990s, research studies that had been published indicated that approximately 50% of children who had UHL, failed a grade in school or needed resource assistance. This revealed that they were about 10 times more likely than their normal-hearing peers to be unsuccessful in their academics. The more severe a child’s UHL is, the more likely they are to struggle with listening and learning. Several analysts determined that having hearing loss in the right ear is more harmful to a person’s academic achievement than experiencing hearing loss in the left ear. Other studies found that there were no ear-specific differences in language measures.
There has been evidence that indicates that children who experience bilateral hearing loss use up more energy to listen. This leads to concentration and listening fatigue. There is currently limited data based on listening effort and fatigue in children with UHL, but there have been self-reports of fatigue in children who have hearing loss versus children who do not have a hearing impairment. There was not, however, a link between the degree of hearing loss and a rating on fatigue. It is plausible that children with UHL would be prone to listening-fatigue. Children who use and sustain their energy to listen during class may have less energy to think of questions, respond with an answer, take less accurate notes, etc.
Managing Your Child’s Hearing Needs
In addition to many hearing aid device options, there are other ways to manage the hearing needs of a child with UHL. A hearing healthcare professional can provide a practical survey or questionnaire to recognize and determine specific risks that are of concern such as localization, difficulties with listening, and educational achievements. The Vanderbilt Fatigue Scale is a tool that will soon be available for measuring and listening-related fatigue in children.
If you, or a loved one, are experiencing hearing loss, please contact us at Pure Sound Hearing for a free hearing test and consultation.