Why hearing and vision tests for children are needed 

It is very important for a child's hearing and eyesight to be tested several times when they're young so that any problems can be picked up and treated early on.

Treatment is likely to be more effective the earlier any problems are detected, and early treatment should limit the impact of problems on a child's development.

Diagnosing a hearing or vision problem early will also ensure that you and your child have access to any special learning support services that are needed.

Recognising hearing problems

About one or two in every 1,000 babies in the UK are born with some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. About 840 are born every year with permanent hearing loss in both ears.

Routine hearing tests are needed to identify babies and children with hearing problems because these problems can have a significant, long-term impact on a child's development. For example, hearing problems can affect a child's speech and language development, education, confidence and social skills.

Hearing tests carried out soon after birth can usually help identify most babies with significant hearing loss, and testing later in childhood can pick up any problems that have been missed or have been slowly getting worse over time.

Causes of hearing loss in children

There are a number of reasons why a child may have a hearing problem, including temporary hearing loss from common illnesses such as a cold.

Other possible causes of hearing loss that can be detected during routine tests include:

  • glue ear – a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, which is common in young children
  • infections that develop in the womb or at birth, such as rubella or cytomegalovirus, which can cause progressive hearing loss
  • inherited conditions, such as otosclerosis, which stop the ears or nerves from working properly
  • damage to the cochlear or auditory nerves (which transmit hearing signals to the brain); this could be caused by a severe head injury, exposure to loud noise or other factors, such as head surgery
  • being starved of oxygen at birth (birth asphyxia), or having had severe jaundice (yellowing of the skin caused by a build-up in the blood of a substance called bilirubin)
  • illnesses, such as meningitis and encephalitis (which both involve swelling in the brain)

Recognising vision problems

About two or three in every 10,000 babies in the UK are born with an eye problem that requires treatment, and about one in every 14 children will need glasses.

Routine eye tests are necessary because children with vision problems may not realise it themselves and any problems are often much easier to treat if detected while a child's vision is still developing (usually up to about seven years of age).

Like hearing problems, vision problems can have a significant impact on a child's development and education.

Vision problems in children

Routine eye tests can detect a number of different vision problems in babies and children, including:

  • cataracts – cloudy patches in the lens of the eye that are present from birth (congenital)
  • lazy eye (amblyopia) – where the vision in one eye does not develop properly
  • squint (strabismus) – where the eyes look in different directions; this affects about one in every 30 children in the UK
  • short-sightedness (myopia) – a very common eye condition that causes distant objects to appear blurred, while close objects can be seen clearly
  • long-sightedness (hyperopia) – where you can see distant objects clearly, but nearby objects are out of focus
  • colour blindness – difficulty seeing colours or distinguishing between two different colours
  • astigmatism – where the cornea (the transparent layer at the front of the eye) is not perfectly curved
  • damage to the optic nerve (optic atrophy)
  • a tumour or growth that presses on the sight centre of the brain and affects vision
  • problems related to premature birth, where the eyes have not had time to develop fully

Page last reviewed: 10/09/2013

Next review due: 10/09/2015