Parents loud and clear: Test teens and tweens for hearing loss, too

December 10, 2012 Volume 17 Issue 2
  • A majority of parents favor requiring regular hearing screenings for children from preschool through teenage years.
  • For preschool-age children, two-thirds of parents prefer primary care offices for hearing screening.
  • About half of parents prefer that hearing screening for older children take place in schools.

Good hearing is essential in so many ways—for speech and language development in early childhood, and for learning and social interactions throughout life. In the last 10 years, hearing screening has been widely implemented for newborns.

Screening in preschool and elementary school-age children is routine in many states. School-based hearing screening is effective at identifying children with hearing loss that has the potential to impact communication, so that the children may receive treatment before they experience delays in speech, language, and learning. In contrast, hearing screening for tweens (9-11 years old) and teens is uncommon. Yet, children in these age groups may experience hearing loss from extended listening to loud noise, such as through personal, portable listening devices like MP3 players.

In this National Poll on Children’s Health, we asked parents of children age 0-17 about support for hearing screening at various ages, and where they would prefer to have the screening done.

Strong Support for Hearing Screening

Across the U.S., parents are strongly in favor of required hearing screenings for children at all ages. Two-thirds or more of parents support hearing screening overall. Levels of support vary from 67% for age 16-17 years to as high as 82% for age 6-7 years (Figure 1).

Parents are more likely to prefer the primary care office for the hearing screening in preschoolers and 6- to 7-year-olds, and they prefer a school-based screening for older children. The most common preferred locations for hearing screening by age are:

  • 2-3 years:     67% in primary care offices
  • 6-7 years:     46% in primary care offices; 41% in schools
  • 10-11 years: 49% in schools; 38% in primary care offices
  • 16-17 years: 49% in schools; 37% in primary care offices

About 10% of parents indicated a preference for an audiology or ear-nose-throat specialist office for screening of children of all ages, which may reflect the small number of parents who have had experience with hearing loss in their children.

Implications

Screening for hearing loss among newborn infants is common across the country, but screening for older children varies by state. In this latest Poll, parents indicate a very strong level of support for hearing screening among children at all ages.

Remarkably, there is similar enthusiasm for hearing screening for teenagers as for preschoolers. This is a somewhat surprising finding, as hearing loss occurring in young children prior to language development can cause more noticeable problems with speech and learning than later-onset hearing loss. Parents of teens may have an increasing awareness of the risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure associated with headphones/earbuds and personal, personal audio devices (addressed in a previous Poll).

In a time when many states are struggling with financial difficulties, hearing screening may not rise to the top of the priority list. Hearing loss is an invisible disability, and does not result in hospitalization if untreated—rather, the costs can be social, emotional, and educational.

The preferences of parents, measured in this Poll, are an indication of strong support for a more comprehensive approach to hearing screening among older children, largely based in school settings. These results also suggest that primary care offices may expect many requests for performing hearing screens among tweens and teens, which may require practices to partner with audiologists and otolaryngologists and/or invest in additional equipment and training.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by GfK Custom Research, LLC (GfK), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in May 2012 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents with a child age 0-17 (n=1,539) from GfK’s web-enabled KnowledgePanel® that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 55% among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 2 to 4 percentage points.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Faculty Collaborators: Marci M. Lesperance, MD and Jaynee Handelsman, PhD
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Acham Gebremariam, MS
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA

Findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material.

This study was supported in part by a grant from the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation.

In the U.S., all hospitals perform a hearing test on newborns. National standards for hearing tests of older children are being considered.

Q1.Would you support national legislation that would require routine hearing tests in older children at the following ages?

2-3 years (preschool) Yes No
6-7 years (1st grade) Yes No
10-11 years (5th grade) Yes No
16-17 years (11th grade) Yes No

Q2. If routine hearing tests were required at the following ages, where would you prefer your child(ren) to be tested?

(Select one response for each row)

[fill if Q1 item = yes] School Pediatrician/ family doctor’s office Local health department Audiology or ear-nose-throat specialist office
2-3 years (preschool)        
6-7 years (1st grade)        
10-11 years (5th grade)        
16-17 years (11th grade)        

Participants were also asked demographic questions on gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income, education and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

This study was supported in part by a grant from the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Faculty Collaborators: Marci M. Lesperance, MD and Jaynee Handelsman, PhD
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Acham Gebremariam, MS
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA

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Proportion of adults who support required hearing screening tests for children at various ages

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