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Hearing Loss in Infants

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 12,000 babies are born with hearing loss each year in the U.S. Risk factors for the condition include: family history of hearing problems, low birth weight, congenital infection, infant craniofacial abnormality and use of medications that are toxic to the hearing nerves.

Hearing is critical for speech and language development, especially during the first two to three years of life. Children who can’t hear, or can’t hear clearly, have difficulty detecting speech sounds and learning language, vocabulary, grammar and forms of verbal expressions. Delays during this critical period of speech and language development may cause a child to fall behind developmentally, academically and socially.

Early Detection

The American Academy of Otolaryngology â?? Head and Neck Surgery estimates about three million children in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss. Roughly 1.2 million of them are under three. Signs of hearing problems in a baby include: failure to imitate sounds, lack of startle response, failure to turn his/her head toward the direction of mom or dad’s voice and not waking to loud noises. Parents who suspect that a baby has a hearing loss should have the infant evaluated by a qualified hearing specialist.

The earlier hearing loss can be identified, the greater the likelihood a child will develop normal language skills. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association reports that infants who are identified with hearing loss by three months and offered intervention by six months have the same language skills as their peers by the time they enter school.

Health experts recommend screening for hearing problems before a newborn leaves the hospital. Two tests are used for newborn hearing screening: the auditory brain stem response and the otoacoustic emission test. The auditory brain stem response (ABR) determines how the brain stem responds to sound. It uses earphones to deliver sounds, and electrodes to pick up brain waves in response to the sounds. The otoacoustic emission (AOE) test determines if the ear is responding to sound. A sponge earphone is placed into the ear canal to deliver sound. In people with normal hearing, an âechoâ can be measured from the sound. If no echo is detected, the infant may have a hearing loss.

Zhanneta Shapiro, Au.D., Audiologist with New York University Medical Center, says if the hospital hearing test suggests a possible hearing problem, the parents are referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) for a comprehensive evaluation. If hearing loss is confirmed, a baby will be fitted for a hearing aid. Shapiro says hearing aids can even be used in children younger than six months. Behind-the-ear hearing aids are preferred for children because they can easily be adapted as the child grows. Children with profound hearing loss may be offered a cochlear implant at around age one.

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