Hearing loss in one ear is enough to cause language problems for kids, doctors reported on Monday.
However, they write in the journal Pediatrics, that up to one in 20 kids with such hearing loss often don't receive the help they need, such as a front seat in class, hearing aids or special education.
"The key idea that this study is presenting is that we don't want to ignore children" with hearing loss on one ear, said Sandra M. Grether, a speech pathologist at the University of Cincinnati, who was not involved in the study.
For the study, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., led by Dr. Judith Lieu, tested 74 pairs of school-age siblings. Half the children had hearing loss in one ear, while their siblings had normal hearing.
The impaired kids scored lower on both comprehension and speech tests and were more likely to be receiving speech therapy than their siblings, but they performed just as well on IQ tests.
"Unlike for children with (hearing loss in both ears), who are routinely fitted with hearing aids and receive accommodations for disability, children with (hearing loss in one ear) may not be considered to have a 'significant hearing loss,'" the researchers write.
They add that, "Our results suggest that children with (hearing loss in one ear) should be eligible for the same accommodations as children with (hearing loss in both ears)."
Apart from hearing aids, several opportunities exist to help these kids, including an FM system that can be used to amplify a teacher's voice. But, the researchers note, parents often have to lobby hard to get schools to adopt such systems.
Grether welcomed the findings, saying earlier research had been scanty.
"These kids are still struggling," she said. "It is something that you notice, but you don't have the data to back it up."