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Hearing Impairment - Introduction

There are two types of hearing impairment or loss - conductive and sensori-neural. Some individuals suffer from both conditions at the same time.

Conductive hearing loss is commonly known as glue ear and is very common in young children after colds and/or earache. Most children outgrow this problem by the time they are seven years old.

Sensori-neural hearing loss is much less common than the conductive type. It's caused by damage to the hearing mechanism itself - usually in the cochlea or along the nerve to the brain. Sensori-neural losses are found in four or five children per 1,000 with one or two of these cases being described as profound. This type of loss is permanent. It can range from mild to profound in degree and is unlikely to be corrected surgically, except in extreme cases by cochlea implants. Early diagnosis of this type of loss is crucial in order to cut down the long-term effects on the child's language and speech development.

Most pupils with hearing impairment in mainstream education have a moderate to severe hearing loss. Some will have been equipped with a hearing aid and possibly with a box for the teacher to wear to conduct the sound more clearly.

Glue ear involves inflammation, either chronic or acute, and an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. It can cause pain and hearing impairment. If it persists, an ear, nose and throat specialist will advise a simple operation to put in grommets to allow fluid to drain from the middle ear. A large number of primary school children suffer from glue ear, especially when colds, flu and other minor infections and childhood diseases are present.

The symptoms usually recur regularly, particularly when the child has had a cold or throat infection which has infected the ear. If the problem is considered to be severe then antibiotics will be prescribed, and possibly decongestant nasal drops.

Otitis media is closely related to otitis externa ('swimmer's ear'), which is an inflammation of the canal joining the ear drum to the external ear, with similar effects.

If a pupil exhibits severe pain and distress at school and you suspect that it may be due to an ear infection, it is essential to speak to the pupil's parents and advise an immediate visit to the doctor. If left untreated or not treated early enough, ear infections associated with glue ear can cause permanent deafness or mastoiditis.