Your child may qualify for a hearing aid if she has permanent hearing loss that can't be treated surgically. In fact, babies as young as 4 weeks old can be fitted with a hearing aid.
The best kind of hearing aid for infants and young children is known as behind-the-ear style (BTE), because the hearing aid itself sits behind the child's ear and is connected to an ear mold inside. You may have heard about hearing aids that sit inside the ear and are much less visible, but those are reserved for adults and children ages 10 to 12 and up. "A young child's ear grows so quickly that if we put a hearing aid in, just four weeks later it won't fit," explains Cheryl Edwards, an audiologist and interim director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children's Hospital. "BTE hearing aids have a longer life because her audiologist can simply make new ear molds as she grows, which is much less expensive." The ear molds are also softer and more comfortable for tiny ears, and they're detachable, which makes them easy to clean.
BTE hearing aids work by picking up sound through a small microphone. The sound is amplified and shaped by a component known as a processor and directed out of a tone hook and through the ear mold into your child's ear. All BTE aids have an on/off switch and a battery compartment. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends digital BTE hearing aids for young children because they can be easily adjusted for the degree of amplification and frequency response as your child and his hearing develop. And once your child is school-age, you should request a hearing aid made with a direct audio input, or telecoil, which can be used with a classroom's hearing assistive technology system. As your child gets older, you can make hearing aids more fun by letting him pick the color of his ear molds; he may also be able to swap her ear mold for a slim tube style, which is much less noticeable. "I wore one of these around for a whole day with my hair pulled back and nobody noticed it," says Edwards.
You'll want to ease your child in to wearing her hearing aids during all waking hours, because they can be a bit of an adjustment, although the process is easier the earlier you use them. Introduce them during a favorite activity and slowly increase how long you leave them on. Huggie Aids (huggieaids.com) can help hold hearing aids in place.
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