While many individuals with cerebral palsy experience hearing loss, the two conditions are not directly related to one another.
To help you understand the link between cerebral palsy and hearing loss, this article, will go over the 3 types of hearing loss, how it affects individuals with cerebral palsy, and management techniques.
Types of Hearing Loss in Cerebral Palsy Patients
Generally, individuals with cerebral palsy experience 1 of 3 types of hearing loss: conductive, sensorineural, or mixed. They vary in causes, symptoms, and prognosis, so it’s essential to understand the differences between them.
Hearing loss can range from slight to profound and affect various locations of one or both ears.
Below, we’ll go over the main distinctions between the 3 types of hearing loss and how to manage them.
1. Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss affects the transmission of sound in the middle and outer ear. Because hearing is affected before sounds reach the nerves in the inner ear, individuals experience muffled, unclear sound.
Luckily, conductive hearing loss is often temporary and can be treated through surgery, medications, or hearing aids.
2. Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there’s damage to the nerve pathways in the inner ear, the neural pathways in the brain, or the part of the brain responsible for perceiving auditory stimuli.
This type of hearing loss is permanent and generally cannot be treated with medicine or surgery. However, hearing aids may be able to help your child manage their hearing impairment.
3. Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing loss is diagnosed when a person experiences a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Both the inner ear and middle/outer ear are affected, which makes it both a physical and neurological complication.
What Causes Hearing Loss in Cerebral Palsy Patients?
Depending on the sample size, the prevalence of hearing loss in individuals with cerebral palsy can vary significantly from study to study. So far, this study of 685 individuals with cerebral palsy has been the most comprehensive and reported a prevalence of 7%.
This should be no surprise because many risk factors that cause cerebral palsy can also cause hearing problems.
Risk factors that can cause cerebral palsy and hearing loss include:
- Genetic abnormalities
- Lack of oxygen to the developing brain
- Premature birth
Now that you understand why hearing loss is so common among individuals with cerebral palsy, let’s go over how to detect a hearing impairment.
Identifying Signs of Hearing Loss in Children with Cerebral Palsy
Because individuals with cerebral palsy struggle with their movements and balance, they must learn how to effectively communicate to relay their needs and socialize. However, hearing loss can significantly affect the development of a child’s language and social skills, so it’s essential to identify symptoms and seek early management.
Signs of hearing loss include:
- delayed or no reactions to sudden bursts of sound
- lack of response when asked questions or when their name is called
- frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- confusion when spoken to
- incoherent responses
Generally, the younger a child is, the more challenging it will be to notice a hearing impairment. Many times, hearing impairments can be mistaken for cognitive impairment due to a lack of response and confusion. If you suspect your child with cerebral palsy is demonstrating any of the symptoms listed above, consult with an audiologist to get a professional evaluation.
Treatments for Hearing Loss in Cerebral Palsy Patients
Depending on the type and severity of your child’s hearing loss, treatment will vary.
As previously mentioned, conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and can be treated through surgery, medications, or hearing aids. In contrast, cerebral palsy patients with sensorineural hearing loss may only benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Surgery is performed to remove whatever is blocking sound from reaching the inner ear.
This can include problems like deformity, dysfunction from head trauma, fluid buildup, tumors, and otosclerosis (a bone growth disorder).
Doctors might prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat ear infections and fluids.
Powerful steroids may also be used either orally or by injection to reduce inflammation and swelling in the ear.
Hearing aids are devices that you place on your ear to amplify sound and hear more clearly.
They don’t heal ear damage, but as long as the individual wears their hearing aid, they should be able to hear much better.
In cases of severe sensorineural hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be recommended. To clarify, a cochlear implant cannot restore normal hearing. Instead, it works around the damaged part of the ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.
Cochlear implants consist of an internal piece that is surgically inserted under the skin and an external component that you place on your ear. They process sounds into electric impulses and send them off to various frequency electrodes, which gives off the sensation of sound.
The sound experienced with a cochlear implant is different from natural sound. However, younger children tend to quickly adapt to it.
Managing Cerebral Palsy and Hearing Loss
Managing hearing loss and cerebral palsy can be overwhelming. Cerebral palsy affects movement, and hearing loss makes it difficult to understand directions, have conversations, and be aware of one’s surroundings.
CP and hearing loss are two separate conditions, and managing both will require personalized treatment.
For example, children that only have hearing impairments typically learn sign language to communicate. However, children with cerebral palsy and hearing impairments might not be able to use sign language because they lack motor control.
Take your child to see an audiologist. They’ll evaluate the severity of your child’s hearing impairment and provide helpful management tips.
Also, consider taking your child to see a speech and language therapist. There, children can learn how to effectively communicate and improve their social skills.
Cerebral Palsy and Hearing Loss: Key Points
Cerebral palsy and hearing loss don’t share a direct relation, but they do occur together often enough that they are associative conditions for one another.
Hearing loss can be mild and difficult to notice, or profound to the point of deafness. Depending on the severity of your child’s hearing loss, treatment methods can be minimal or invasive.
If you think your child may be showing signs of a hearing impairment, don’t hesitate to get a professional diagnosis. Early intervention can help prevent hearing complications from progressing and significantly improve your child’s communication skills.
Hopefully, this article helped you get a better understanding of what to expect, signs to look out for, and treatment options for hearing loss in cerebral palsy patients.