Causes of Hearing Loss

There are many reasons why a child might be born hearing impaired or become hearing impaired in childhood. Although not knowing the cause of the loss can be very upsetting, it isn’t always possible to identify the reason. You may be offered tests to try to find the cause of your child’s hearing loss but they will only be able to identify the cause in 40–50% of children.

Causes of hearing loss before birth (pre-natal causes)

Permanent hearing loss in children is most commonly caused by genetics, passed down in families, even though there appears to be no family history of hearing loss.

Some of the most common syndromes associated with hearing loss are:

  • Alport syndrome
  • Branchio-Oto-Renal syndrome
  • CHARGE syndrome
  • Crouzon syndrome
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Goldernhar syndrome
  • Jervell and Lange Nielsen syndrome
  • Pendred syndrome, where children have enlarged vestibular aqueducts
  • Stickler syndrome
  • Treacher Collins syndrome
  • Usher syndrome Type 1 and Type 2
  • Waardenburg syndrome

Hearing loss can also be caused by complications during pregnancy. Infections such as rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV), toxoplasmosis and herpes can cause a child to be born hearing impaired.

There are also a range of medicines, known as ototoxic drugs, which can damage a baby’s hearing system before birth.

Hearing can be affected by cleft palate or cleft lip and palate, which can occur on its own or be linked to one of the syndromes listed above.

Different types of hearing loss can be associated with microtia and atresia, depending on which part of the ear is not formed or working as it should.

Causes in early childhood (post-natal causes)

Being born prematurely can increase the risk of a child being or becoming hearing impaired. Premature babies are often more prone to infections that can cause hearing loss. Severe jaundice or a lack of oxygen at some point can also cause hearing loss. Infections during early childhood, such as meningitis, measles and mumps, can be responsible for a child becoming hearing impaired.

Temporary hearing loss in children is most commonly caused by glue ear.

Children may develop a rare ear disease known as cholesteatoma. This can happen at any time during childhood.

Children born with enlarged vestibular aqueducts can be born with a hearing loss which can be progressive or develop for the first time in early childhood.

Children may develop a rare condition known as otosclerosis. This can happen at any time during childhood, but is more common in teenagers and young adults.

Occasionally, a head injury or exposure to loud noise can damage the hearing system.

Medical tests used to help diagnose the cause of hearing loss

Information about how you can try to find out the cause of your child’s hearing loss can be found in our resource Medical Tests to diagnose Hearing Loss.

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