Hearing loss is the most common birth defect, with two to three out of one thousand babies born with a hearing impairment. It’s important to catch this early, as hearing plays a crucial role in a child’s social and emotional development, and is key to their speech and language skills. Universal newborn hearing screens help identify these hearing losses before they lead to lifelong speech and communication difficulties. Up to 10 percent of infants do not pass the initial hearing test, but this is often the result of movement and crying during the exam, or a buildup of fluid or vernix (the waxy, white protective coating that babies are born with) in the ears. Follow-up testing can confirm whether your baby truly has a hearing loss. They often pass on second attempt, or even a third try. Our practice can be helpful in determining whether a hearing loss is, or is not, present. It is important to be sure.
Nearly three children in one thousand is born with some form of hearing loss. Prior to universal newborn hearing screens, may hearing issues weren’t discovered until after a child had already developed speech and communication barriers. If a hearing loss is caused by middle ear fluid, many times the loss will resolve when the fluid drains naturally or removed with ear tubes. Other children are dependent on hearing aids. Those whose hearing loss is so severe that hearing aids are not helpful may be considered for cochlear implants.
The first two years of a child’s life are not just important in physical development, but their hearing pathways are also developing. The sooner a child’s hearing loss is corrected or managed, the better the child will do in the long term. In the days of my birth, children with mild to moderate hearing loss were usually not identified until they were several years old and had lifelong speech impairment. The hearing aids they used were also bulkier and less effective. A child with severe to profound hearing loss was offered only sign language. Today, children are identified earlier. A typical child that wears hearing aids, which are much more effective and smaller, is expected to have normal or near normal speech. A child born deaf, can be in most cases offered a cochlear implant, which for he right candidate can lead to verbal and auditory access to the speaking world. As emotionally devastating as a hearing loss can be on a family, these children do very well and have fulfilling lives.
The earlier you catch your child’s hearing loss, the better. Babies rely on their hearing right from the start in order to develop speech and language skills. Left untreated, a hearing loss can lead to delays in language development and social coping skills. If there is a problem, early detection can prevent many of these issues, and put your child on the proper track for learning.
There are two common hearing tests used for newborns.
The first is called an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test, which measures the response of a baby’s hearing nerve using electrodes. The second is the Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test, which uses a microphone and earphone to calculate an infant’s hearing abilities by measuring the reflection of a sound’s echo as it passes through the ear canal.
False positives for hearing loss are common in newborn screenings.
Your baby’s first hearing screening will likely be performed within a few hours or days of birth. Statistics show that between 2–10 percent of infant hearing tests indicate hearing loss, while only 0.003 percent of infants actually suffer from a permanent hearing impairment condition. Rather than a diagnosis, these tests are administered in order to help parents identify a potential problem as early as possible, promoting the prevention of developmental disorders.
Hearing loss in infants is usually the result of a temporary, treatable condition.
The tests used in newborn hearing screenings are accurate; however, they can’t reveal what is causing the irregular results. In most cases, a hearing loss–positive result from the tests indicates an easily treatable problem like a fluid buildup, earwax blockage or ear infection. In other cases, the cause is never identified. Infants with irregular test results will be directed to an audiologist for a more in-depth examination.
It’s important to continue following up on irregular newborn hearing screening results. Since one in 10–50 newborn hearing screenings indicate a potential hearing loss, many parents are left wondering about their child’s hearing. It’s critical to identify permanent hearing loss symptoms as early as possible in infants, so regularly retesting your infant’s hearing is highly advisable. Talk to an audiologist about your situation to find out how frequently you should test your child’s hearing to detect possible hearing loss problems.
Call Dr. Sipp at (404) 591-1426 for more information or to schedule an appointment.