May is Better Hearing & Speech Month: Here’s what you need to know

Dr. Tommie Robinson of Children’s National shares information on hearing and speech problems commonly seen in adolescents.

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There is a rise in communication disorders among adolescents, particularly as it relates to hearing and voice disorders. This change is likely rooted in the habits that teens have adopted over the years.  With the modernizations in technology, listening devices are stronger and more powerful. When not used properly, these devices can cause hearing loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5% of kids and teens between the ages of 6 and 19 have at least some noise-induced hearing loss. Voice disorders can also be associated with a number of other entities, including vocal abuse.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, so Tommie Robinson Jr., Ph.D., CCC-SLP, division chief of Hearing and Speech at Children’s National, is sharing some important information on hearing and speech problems and provided tips, below, on how to protect your child’s hearing, as well as their voice.

“It’s important to raise awareness about hearing and voice disorders because communication is our key to society and is the base for every interaction we have. Hearing is needed for language development in babies and young children. The earlier we identify a problem the better the prognosis,” says Dr. Robinson.

Hearing Loss

There are three main types of hearing loss: congenital hearing loss, acquired hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. Some babies have hearing loss at birth (congenital hearing loss), and other cases of hearing loss can occur at any time throughout one’s life and can be the result of an illness or injury (acquired hearing loss).

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused by exposure to excessive loud sound: a loud work environment, loud machinery or listening to loud music. Once NIHL starts, the hearing does not come back. Dr. Robinson suggests safe listening. “Use ear protection in noisy situations,” he says. “Control the volume on earbuds or get noise-canceling headphones. If others can hear the sound coming out of your earbuds, it is too loud.”

Speech or Voice Disorders

Most children develop speech and language skills within a specific age range. Various causes of voice problems include structural disorders, neurogenic disorders and functional disorders.

Structural disorders could include vocal nodules, swelling or inflammation of the larynx, sometimes caused by gastroesophageal reflux, stenosis of the airway and trauma to the larynx (common following intubation). Neurogenic disorders may be recurrent laryngeal nerve paresis, spasmodic dysphonia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Functional disorders include screaming, excessive throat clearing and vocal overuse.

Signs of an unhealthy voice are breathy vocal quality, abnormal loudness or pitch, persistent, hoarse voice or gurgled, wet-sounding vocal quality. To maintain a healthy voice, Dr. Robinson says to drink plenty of water, talk at an appropriate volume, give your voice some rest and reduce behaviors that contribute to voice differences.

If a parent is concerned with their child’s hearing or speech, they should reach out to their pediatrician.  The pediatrician may suggest that the child get a hearing or speech assessment with a licensed and certified pediatric audiologist or speech-language pathologist.

For more information visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website.

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