Staefa, Switzerland, June 11, 2013
Hearing loss is often associated with or seen as asign of old age, however hearing loss can occur in children and even in infants. Every year, about 665,000 babies around the world are born with significant hearing loss. In the United States, approximately 2 out of 1,000 are born with hearing loss. The earlier that hearing loss is detected and managed, the more likely a child will develop age appropriate speech and language.
The Hear the World Foundation highlights an often overlooked subject
By the time a child is born, they have already had several months of experience of hearing in the womb. Their ability to hear and speak continues to develop after birth as they listen to and imitate voices and other acoustic stimuli in their environment. If the brain does not receive adequate acoustic stimuli because of an undetected hearing loss, the development of age appropriate speech and language can be delayed making it difficult to close the gap. “The building blocks for learning language are laid down during the very first few months of life,” explains William Dickinson, Au.D., CCC-A, Vice President of Audiology, Phonak LLC. “A child’s ability to hear and speak is vital for emotional and social development and forms the basis for his or her later social and professional life.” That is why it is particularly important for hearing loss in babies to be detected and managed as early as possible.
Causes of hearing loss in babies
There are various causes of hearing loss in babies and they can occur at different times. “Approximately half of all pre-natal cases have a genetic component,” says Dr. Dickinson. Other sources of hearing loss in babies can include: maternal infection during pregnancy (e.g. rubella) or substances consumed by her during the pregnancy (e.g. alcohol). Complications during birth (e.g. lack of oxygen), head injury, or untreated ear infections (e.g. inflammation of the middle ear) are also other causes of hearing loss. One type of hearing loss called Noise Induced Hearing Loss can easily be prevented in young children. This type of hearing loss can be overlooked as the result of exposure to toys that are too loud. Children often have these loud toys close to their faces or near their ears they can cause irreversible damage to young ears.
How can you tell if a baby has hearing loss?
In the United States, all hospitals and birthing clinics conduct newborn hearing screenings shortly after birth. “The screening does not take long, is completely painless and quickly establishes whether there is a need for further hearing evaluation or not,” says Dr. Dickinson. “It is best carried out after the baby is at least a day old, because immediately after birth amniotic fluid and other debris may still be present in the ears, which can produce false test results.”
Treatments for the smallest patients
- Conductive hearing loss: This is commonly caused by a cold or middle ear problems and appropriate medical treatment may help.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This is a permanent type of hearing loss and addressed with amplification. If a hearing loss is diagnosed after complete hearing evaluation, then hearing instruments will be the first step in intervention Hearing instruments can be individually adapted by a pediatric hearing care professional, even during the first few months of life. When there is significant hearing loss where the individual cannot adequately benefit from appropriately fit amplification by a hearing aid, a cochlear implant may be a technology choice. This technology requires the expertise of an Ear Nose Specialist (ENT) because the implant requires surgical insertion into the cochlea.
Helpful tips for the parents of babies with hearing loss:
- Above all, babies with hearing loss need exactly the same as all children: the love, patience and attention of their parents.
- Even when their baby is still an infant, parents should try to maintain eye contact when speaking to them. Their facial expressions and gestures should match what they are saying.
- Hearing loss in your baby should not be a taboo subject: if it is spoken about openly from early on, it is easier for the parents, and later also the child, to treat it as something natural.
- The singer and Hear the World ambassador Joey McIntyre is a good example: he regularly speaks in public about his experiences with his son, who was born with hearing loss. Read more here.