Hearing Loss and Deafness


Here you’ll find answers to some of the questions that parents often have about this condition. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of the page. Diagnosis and management information can be found in the Hearing Loss and Deafness module, which is written for primary care clinicians but also may be of help to parents and family members.

What is hearing impairment and what causes it?

Hearing loss and deafness refers to some degree of hearing loss in either or both ears or in the way the brain processes sound. There are many different causes of hearing loss including genetic and congenital conditions, illnesses, medication side effects, and trauma. Hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. A list of diagnostic conditions associated with hearing loss can be found on our issue page. See List of Causes of Hearing Loss with ICD-9 Codes.
What is "minimal hearing loss?"
The amount of hearing loss is typically defined as the threshold (lowest level) of sound that can be heard, measured in decibels (dB). Normal hearing for children is 15 dB HL (decibels hearing level) or better at all frequencies with normal middle ear function; mild hearing loss is typically considered to start at 20 dB HL. Most people define a minimal or slight hearing impairment as one that occurs from 16 dB HL to 25 dB HL. Minimal hearing loss does put a child at risk for school failure and may require classroom accommodation such as preferential seating and frequency-modulation (FM) systems. Classroom Management for Children with Minimal Hearing Loss (Toronto Hearing Services)

What are the symptoms of hearing impairment?

Hearing loss may be observed as the inability to respond to various sounds, such as calling a child’s name or hearing a plane overhead. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if this lack of response is due to hearing loss, inattentiveness, or lack of social interest. Hearing loss may lead to speech difficulties and delays. When there is concern for speech delay or a lack of response to sounds, an audiology evaluation is recommended.

How is it diagnosed?

There are several ways to test different aspects of hearing. Some can be performed at the primary care office, through an Early Intervention Part C Program, or at school. More extensive testing is typically performed by an audiologist. Doctors who specialize in ears, such as ear, nose, throat (ENT) physicians or otolaryngologists, typically have audiologists who work closely with them. See Hearing Testing.
What is an audiogram?
An audiogram is a graphic display of the results of a hearing test. The audiologist completes the audiogram by recording the level of hearing at different frequencies (e.g. low and high pitch sounds). This enables the physician / audiologist to understand the level and type of a hearing loss and advise on the appropriate treatment options. Regular testing also allows the hearing levels to be monitored over time. See What is an Audiogram? (baby

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis, or long term expected outcome, is different for everyone, depending on the reason for the hearing loss. Certain types of hearing loss may improve or worsen over time. Knowing the type of hearing loss can help provide information about the expected outcome for the affected person. For young children, introducing hearing aids or other forms of augmentation early can help developmental outcomes, including speech and language development.

What is the risk for other family members or future babies?

The risk depends on the type and cause of the hearing loss. Some families have multiple family members with hearing loss, but in many cases the affected person may be the first family member with hearing impairments. A geneticist or genetic counselor can help determine the family’s overall risk if there is a possible genetic cause. If the hearing loss is caused by illness, medication side effects, or injury then it is unlikely that other family members would be affected.

What treatments/therapies/medications are recommended or available?

How will we decide what type of hearing support to choose for our child?
A wide range of technology options is available for amplification. Technology selection is individualized, based on factors such as age, level of hearing, and the needs of the child and family. An audiologist with expertise in childhood hearing loss will assist you in the decision-making process. See Hearing Aids.
What is a cochlear implant?
Cochlear implants may help some children who are deaf or hard of hearing and who do not benefit from hearing aids or FM systems. A wire containing electrodes is surgically placed into the cochlea (the organ of hearing). Sound is picked up by a receiver which is implanted behind the ear in the mastoid bone. An externally-worn receiver sends signals to the electrodes and this creates a sensation of sound. See Cochlear Implantation.

How will my child and our family be impacted?

Every child and family reacts differently to a diagnosis of hearing loss. In families where hearing loss is common, the child may feel welcome in a community that is supportive and nurturing. For families unfamiliar with the diagnosis, it is normal to feel many different emotions along the way, including denial, anger, and guilt, as well as frustration from not understanding the process and not speaking the same language as the specialists involved in the child’s care. It is important to work closely with the audiologist to monitor and care for the child, and to have good communication with the Early Intervention Part C Program and the school system to help provide appropriate supports for the child. If your child or another family member is struggling to understand and accept a diagnosis, ask your primary care clinician for suggestions or speak to a counselor to help provide developmentally appropriate insights.

What does a "false positive" result on a newborn hearing screen mean?

An infant receives a "false positive" result on newborn hearing screening when hearing is normal but the hearing test is not passed. This may be due to debris in the external auditory canal or transient fluid in the middle ears. Hearing screening tests do not diagnose hearing loss in infants; rather, they are designed to identify all infants who may have hearing loss. In the United States, between 10 and100 babies per 1,000 (1 to 10 percent) do not pass the screening test. Only one to three babies per 1,000 (less than 1 percent) actually have hearing loss. This means that most of the babies referred for diagnostic testing will be shown to have no hearing loss. Because acting early is critical for infants with hearing loss, it is very important for all infants who fail the initial hearing screen to have a complete audiological evaluation.


Information & Support

Where can I go for further information?

For Parents and Patients


Family Support for Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (NCHAM)
Extensive compilation of resources and sources of support for families that have a child who is deaf or hard of hearing; National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.

Easter Seals
Nonprofit organization offering services for individuals with disabilities and their families. Primary services include medical rehabilitation, early intervention, physical and occupational therapy, speech and hearing therapy, child care, recreation, and transition.


Parents' Guide to Hearing Loss (CDC)
Comprehensive section on hearing information for families, professionals, and programs. Resources and a glossary of related terms; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Learning About Hearing Loss - A Roadmap for Families (NCHAM) (PDF Document 347 KB)
Graphic representation of the path to learning about hearing loss, from a positive newborn hearing screen to 6 months of age; National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.

Learning about Hearing Loss - A Roadmap for Families (NCHAM) (Spanish) (PDF Document 287 KB)
Spanish language graphic representation of the path to learning about hearing loss, from a positive newborn hearing screen to 6 months of age; National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.

Newborn Hearing Screening (My Baby's Hearing)
Information about specific aspects of newborn hearing screening; Boys Town National Research Hospital.

Glossary of Hearing Terms (My Baby's Hearing)
Definitions of more than 110 terms related to hearing and hearing loss; Boystown National Research Hospital.

Resources for Parents of Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (EHDI-PALS)
Information and questions to ask of your hearing and health providers; Early Hearing Detection and Intervention-Pediatric Audiology Links to Services.

Hearing Tests (My Baby's Hearing)
Overview of hearing testing in children; Boys Town National Research Hospital.

Nonsyndromic Deafness (Genetics Home Reference)
Wealth of information, and links to more information, about hearing impairments that are not associated with genetic syndromes; sponsored by the National Library of Medicine.

Hearing Loss, Genetics, and Your Child Brochure (ACMG) (PDF Document 1.5 MB)
Two-page brochure for families about children with hearing loss and determining a genetic cause; American College of Medical Genetics.

Hearing Loss, Genetics, and Your Child Brochure (ACMG) (Spanish) (PDF Document 1.4 MB)
Two-page brochure, in Spanish, with information for families about hearing loss in children and determining genetic causes; American College of Medical Genetics.

Hearing Problems in Children (MedlinePlus)
Overview and extensive links to vetted sites with more information; National Library of Medicine.

Trauma Treatment Needs of Deaf Children and the Hearing Children of Deaf Parents (PDF Document 430 KB)
Enhances opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing children who experience traumatic stress to receive treatment tailored to their individual, cultural, and communicative needs; National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Alexander Graham Bell Association
One of the oldest and most comprehensive organizations focused on pediatric hearing loss. Educates the public about technological advances for the deaf and hearing impaired and advocates legislation.

Hearing Health Foundation
National organization whose goal is the cure and prevention of all forms of hearing loss.

Gallaudet University
The world's only university geared specifically to the needs of the deaf. Includes links to other deaf schools in the United States.

National Association of the Deaf
Advocates the civil rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in areas including education, employment, health care, social services, and telecommunications.

National Theatre of the Deaf
Information about upcoming performances, workshops, and classroom visits.

World Federation of the Deaf
International organization with goal of eradicating discrimination against the deaf community.

American Academy of Audiology
Resources for professionals who test, treat, and provide care to the deaf or hard of hearing.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Information for professionals working in audiology, speech-language pathology, and the speech and hearing sciences. Advocate for people with communication disabilities.

American Sign Language Teachers Association
Provides ASL professionals with information on deaf culture, instructional methods, materials, and evaluation techniques.

Council on Education of the Deaf (CED)
Dedicated to the exchange of information about deaf education, from recommended teaching strategies to curriculum materials.

Gallaudet Research Institute
Research conducted by Gallaudet Research Institute, one of the world's premier deafness-related research centers, into deaf health care services, demographics, literacy, and more.

American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC)
Independent nonprofit organization whose purpose is to provide support and information to families raising children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Online ASL dictionary, reportedly the largest on the Web, offers 3,090 animated signs, from "accounting" to "zen."

Award-winning site offers extensive information on how to read and write in signed languages.

Patient Education

'Just in Time' Hearing Resources for Families (NCHAM) (Spanish) (PDF Document 639 KB)
Two-page compilation of valuable resources for families with concerns about hearing loss in their child; National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.

'Just in Time' Hearing Resources for Families (NCHAM) (PDF Document 574 KB)
A two-page compilation of valuable resources for families with concerns about hearing loss in their child; National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management.



See all Audiology services providers (69) in our database.

Developmental Evaluation

See all Developmental Evaluation services providers (54) in our database.

Early Intervention Programs

See all Early Intervention Programs services providers (52) in our database.

Pediatric Genetic Counseling

See all Pediatric Genetic Counseling services providers (5) in our database.

Pediatric Genetics

See all Pediatric Genetics services providers (5) in our database.

Pediatric Ophthalmology

See all Pediatric Ophthalmology services providers (8) in our database.

Pediatric Otolaryngology

See all Pediatric Otolaryngology services providers (9) in our database.

Prenatal Genetic Counseling/Diagnosis

See all Prenatal Genetic Counseling/Diagnosis services providers (1) in our database.

Schools for the Deaf & Blind

See all Schools for the Deaf & Blind services providers (12) in our database.

Speech/Language Therapy

See all Speech/Language Therapy services providers (80) in our database.

For other services related to this condition, browse our Services categories or search our database.


Childhood Hearing Loss (
Clinical trials involving hearing loss. Trials may be recruiting subjects - compensation offered in some cases; registered with the National Institutes of Health.

Cochlear Implants (
Listing of clinical trials of which may be recruiting subjects; National Institutes of Health.

Otitis Media with Effusion (
Clinical trials related to OME in children; National Institutes of Health.


Content Last Updated: 12/2015