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Hearing impairment in children: Etiology

Richard JH Smith, MD
Adrian Gooi, MD, FRCS(C)
Section Editor
Glenn C Isaacson, MD, FAAP
Deputy Editor
Carrie Armsby, MD, MPH


Hearing loss in the first years of life can cause delays in speech, language, and cognitive development [1]. Speech and language delays secondary to hearing loss are often preventable [2,3]. Thus, early identification of hearing impairment, whether it is permanent (usually sensorineural) or temporary (usually conductive), is the key to a child's success with communication [4-7].

Significant hearing loss occurs in 1 to 2 per 1000 newborns and in 2 per 1000 young children. However, nearly all children develop transient hearing loss related to middle ear infections during the period from birth to 11 years of age [8]. Knowledge of the etiology of the hearing loss, particularly if genetic, can affect family planning and assist in the development of the optimal habilitation plan for the patient [9,10].

The anatomy and physiology of the ear and the etiology of hearing impairment in children are reviewed here. The evaluation and treatment of hearing impairment are discussed separately. (See "Hearing impairment in children: Evaluation" and "Hearing impairment in children: Treatment".)


The ear is divided into three anatomic segments (figure 1):

The outer ear, comprising the auricle and external auditory canal (EAC)

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 05, 2017.
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