What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the total or partial inability to hear sound in one or both ears.
The terms ‘hearing loss,’ ‘hearing impairment,’ ‘hard of hearing,’ and ‘deafness’ are all used when describing a child’s limited ability to hear all sounds in our spoken language. Limitations in hearing directly affect a child’s ability to understand and imitate speech, and develop natural speech patterns.
Federal definitions are more specific. For example, ‘hearing impairment’ is defined by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) as "an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." Deafness is defined as "a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification."
Thus, deafness may be viewed as a medical condition that prevents a child from receiving sound in all or most of its forms. In contrast, a child with a ‘hearing loss’ or ‘hearing impairment’ can often respond to sounds, including spoken language, although the information is not completely understandable.
In babies, hearing loss occurs more often than any other medical condition for which newborn screening is available. In older Americans, hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition, after hypertension and arthritis.
Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. It can be hereditary or have environmental causes. It can affect both ears (bilateral), or just one (unilateral). Hearing loss can range from mild-moderate-severe to profound.
Refer to the Pediatric Resource Guide to Infant & Childhood Hearing Loss for facts on prevalence of hearing loss, effects on language and communication, legislative mandates for EHDI (Early Hearing Detection and Intervention), and benefits of early identification and treatment.