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When Kids Aren’t Paying Attention, Is It Selective Hearing or Loss of Hearing?

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When Kids Aren’t Paying Attention, Is It Selective Hearing or Loss of Hearing?

Mar 19, 2014

You might think they’re not listening. But if a child’s not paying attention to you or you have to call them several times before they respond, is that just selective hearing or true hearing loss? Dr. Jeremy Meier talks about some of the symptoms of hearing loss in kids and why they can often be mistaken for other health conditions. You’ll also learn ways to prevent and keep your child safe from hearing loss, and whether or not hearing loss in kids is curable.

Episode Transcript

Man: Medical news and research from the University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Do your kids really have a hearing problem, or is it just kind of selective hearing? How loud is too loud? These and other hearing questions, let's answer them right now. We're with Dr. Jeremy Meier. He's an ENT specialist with the University of Utah Healthcare. Hearing loss. First of all, symptoms. From what I understand, they can be subtle and mistaken for other conditions.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Right. If a child is not paying attention to you or they're sitting down and you have to call them several times, the big question always is, "Is that selective hearing, or is that true hearing loss?" So, other things to watch for would be if a child seems to be asking you, "What?" a lot or if they're asking for you to repeat yourself quite a bit, if they're turning the TV up loud or if they're moving closer to the TV, if their teachers is noticing that they're not paying as much in school, that might be ADHD. It might be concentration issues, but it also might be that they're not hearing or understanding the teacher as well.

Interviewer: Kind of like how back in the day if you didn't have good vision, you might lose interest because you couldn't see?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Exactly.

Interviewer: Same sort of thing? That's interesting.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Exactly.

Interviewer: All right. So those are some of the symptoms you can look for. Let's talk about things to watch out for to keep your kids safe from losing their hearing. How loud is too loud?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Yeah. So, nowadays with the earbuds and the headphones, if you can hear those when the child has them on their ear, then that's definitely too loud.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: It's important to realize that not only is it the intensity of the sound and how loud it is, but also the length of time that they're listening to that music. Both of those can play a role.

Interviewer: Are there things other than listening to music through earbuds that can cause hearing loss?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Well, any type of loud noises. So whether it's gunshot or firearms.

Interviewer: Hunters.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Right. Hunters. If they're at a loud concert, and we've all had that time where we've been to a concert and came home with ringing in our ears.

Interviewer: Is one concert going to hurt you?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Temporarily. Typically not in the long-term.

Interviewer: Okay. But a lot of loud concerts.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Right. Over time, that can definitely play a role.

Interviewer: Would you recommend wearing ear plugs?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Yes, actually, yes, if you're going to go to a lot of concerts.

Interviewer: It might be a little nerdy, but at least you can hear people say that you're a nerd.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: That's right. And down the road, your ears will thank you.

Interviewer: All right. What else could cause some hearing loss that you would want to keep the kids away from?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Well, a lot of times, kids will have ear infections. They had a history of ear infections or if they had fluid built up in their ears and no one notices that. Then the child goes to elementary school and has a hearing test at school and all of a sudden they fail it, then everything starts to make sense. Mom starts to realize that, "Maybe they weren't ignoring me as much as I thought, and they truly had some hearing loss all along."

Interviewer: Are kids more susceptible to hearing loss than adults?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: More hearing loss occurs as we get older. With everything, as we start to lose our senses, we start to lose our hearing. However, younger kids will often have fluid in their ears, and they have what's called a conductive hearing loss. So that's more common in kids than adults.

Interviewer: If a child experiences hearing loss, is there anything that can be done?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Fortunately, in most kids, there can be. It depends on what kind of hearing loss it is. If they have fluid in their ears, we can place tympanostomy tubes and remove that fluid. And that's the cure for a majority of children. If it's a sensorineural type of hearing loss or if there's been nerve damage, whether they were born with that or it came on from an unknown cause, then we can typically place hearing aids.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: But in those cases, there's nothing that we can do surgically to restore the hearing.

Interviewer: All right. What about earbud damage because I listen to my music too loud?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: That's going to develop over time, and unfortunately there's nothing we can do to repair that.

Interviewer: Do hearing aids help?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Hearing aids can help that, but they only help to a certain extent.

Interviewer: Yeah, sure. And who wants to wear hearing aids when you don't have to?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Exactly.

Interviewer: What's the most important thing when it comes to kids and their hearing?

Dr. Jeremy Meier: I would just remind them that the loud music that they're listening to now may not be affecting their hearing at this age, but down the road it can have consequences.

Interviewer: Really, they might not notice symptoms from really loud music and think they're immune, but 10 or 20 years later that music could've affect it.

Dr. Jeremy Meier: Exactly. It's just the same thing with whether it's sun exposure or our diet, we don't realize it until we're 40 or 50 and regret the things we did when we were younger.

Man: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, the University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.