Can Your Baby Hear You?


New Born screening picture

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 0.5-5 newborns in every 1000 births suffer from hearing impairment to some degree (1).

Ensuring that your baby gets the necessary screenings to detect any health disorders post birth is the first and the most crucial step towards promising them healthy growing years. Most health disorders screened in the first week of the child’s birth are treatable to a great extent. Newborn screening includes a set of tests performed on the child, 24-48 hours after birth, although some studies also suggest that the screening be done 12 hours after birth in order to identify and diagnose any kind of treatable conditions.

One of the most commonly disregarded screening in newborns is screening for effective ‘hearing’. Most parents are extremely ignorant and unaware of the importance of newborn screening.

The ability for a child to be able to hear is extremely important as it helps develop speech and language skills as they grow. Hearing loss is one of the most commonly undiagnosed and misdiagnosed condition in babies.

There are various causes and risk factors associated with newborn hearing loss. Premature babies, babies with birth deformities, trauma caused to mothers during pregnancy, toxicity and genetically predisposed babies are those who fall under the ‘high risk-category’. However, as per the AAP statistics 95% of babies with hearing loss are born to parents who do not suffer from any hearing issues.

It is extremely important for parents to understand the need for hearing screening within the first few days/one month of their child’s birth in order to rule out any possible hearing impairment. The child develops learning the basics of speech and language within the first six months of birth and any hearing disorders detected in children of/below 6 months of age can be successfully treated.

However, hearing loss can be caused in babies who have already passed the screening test. Hearing loss can develop in children at a later stage in life, where it is the responsibility of parents or caregivers to notice and watch for signs of hearing loss; Acquired hearing loss or congenital hearing loss. In addition to screening for hearing after birth, regular checkup of the baby’s health is necessary. Hence, follow up is key to determine whether the baby has hearing loss or not. The basic signs of hearing impairment in children that caregivers should keep watch for include;

  • Inability to respond to your voice/directions
  • Inability to speak properly
  • Inability to follow the direction of sound
  • Being unresponsive to loud noises

Hearing loss in children could be of two kinds; temporary and permanent. Temporary hearing loss is caused in the outer or middle ear and could be caused excessive ear wax formation in the ear, fluid behind the ear drum or any deformity of the middle ear cavity. Permanent hearing loss occurs when the inner ear is damaged, it could be caused by genetic factors or by congenital disorders.

Otacoustic Emission (OAE) test is done to examine the cochlear status. This information can be used to screen hearing, particularly in neonates, infants, or individuals with developmental disabilities. It also partially estimates hearing sensitivity within a limited range.

Treatment for hearing loss depends on the child’s overall health and wellbeing and the underlying cause for the condition. Treatment may include;

  • Hearing aids and devices
  • Cochlear Implants
  • Speech and Language therapy
  • Sign language – only in case when hearing aids don’t work. Age factor or cochlear implant affordability could also be an issue

However hearing loss caused due to any factor pertaining to the inner ear has no definitive cure. There is no scope of prevention of hearing loss in infants. A pregnant woman cannot do much to ensure that her baby is born with perfect hearing. Early detection is key in such cases. Early detection of hearing loss helps families take the necessary steps to ensure their child’s positive speech, language and cognitive development. The AAP, JCIH Committee aims to have every infant screened for hearing loss as a newborn, diagnosed by 3 months and receive early intervention services by 6 months of age.

Every year, September is recognized as Newborn Screening Awareness Month in order to create awareness about the importance of overall screening newborns for conditions that could later hamper their health. Detecting life altering conditions very early in life makes it possible to eliminate their negative influence on the health and development of a child. Your baby may look healthy and cheerful but some conditions are not visible to the eye, they need to be tested for by a specialist. Hence, every new born must be screened and parents must be encouraged to give their new born babies the benefit of healthy growing years.

Mr. Vikas, Audiologist

Mr. Vikas 

Audiologist 

Aster Hospital Mankhool 

1 – http://www.who.int/blindness/publications/Newborn_and_Infant_Hearing_Screening_Report.pdf

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