Catch Hearing Loss Early

Stuart Ort MDWhen should your child’s hearing be tested?  The answer is sooner than you think.  All states have laws or voluntary compliance programs requiring hearing tests in newborns, usually before they leave the hospital.  Every year, about two to three percent of babies are born with hearing problems in the U.S.

For years, routine-hearing tests took place only when children entered school.  However, hearing loss can cause serious problems much earlier, and hearing problems affect the development of language and speech.  During the first six months, babies begin to recognize the spoken sounds that are critical for developing language.  Poor hearing can slow down that progress for both speaking and reading. Consider having your child tested for hearing loss, especially if he or she has any of the following risk factors: premature birth, cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit for more than five days, a history of severe jaundice requiring blood transfusion, maternal or neonatal infections, meningitis, or family history of childhood hearing loss. Other reasons to test for early hearing loss may include a family history of certain hereditary or congenital syndromes like Neurofibromatosis, Down syndrome, Osteoporosis, and Usher syndrome.  Even without risk factors, parents should remain alert to hearing problems. The following are signs of hearing loss in your baby.

  • If he or she doesn’t hear loud noises
  • If after six months of age he or she doesn’t react towards sounds
  • If by 12 months of age he or she doesn’t say single words
  • If he or she doesn’t turn their head when called by name

A newborn can pass a hearing test and still develop hearing problems later in childhood.  There are two types of hearing tests for infants that are quick and painless.  The first type is an auditory brainstem response test, in which sound is introduced to the baby’s ear through tiny earphones while the baby is sleeping.  Using sensors attached to the baby’s head, the test records electrical activity produced by the auditory nerve and brainstem when it’s stimulated by this sound.  The second type is an Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test.  The normal ear makes faint acoustic signals, sometimes called inner-ear echoes. Although people can’t hear their own sounds from their inner ear, tiny, sensitive microphones placed in the ear canal during this screening can measure the sounds. Infants who can’t hear create no emissions.

Most children undergo a hearing check through their health care provider with a simple device called a tuning fork.  If hearing loss is suspected, your child may have tests from an audiologist or hearing specialist.  Tests include the two I already discussed as well as pure tone audiometry, a test that checks hearing at different decibels or sound levels, and Tympanometry, a test that is often used to check hearing in children with ear infections.  

Please keep in mind, no child is too young to benefit from early hearing loss detection.  Consult your health care provider if you suspect hearing loss in your child.

Stuart Ort, M.D., is a board certified Otolaryngologist (ENT) on staff at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center. His offices are located at 485B Route 1 South, Suite 350, Iselin, and 3663 Route 9 North, Suite 102, Old Bridge. To make an appointment, call 1-800-DOCTORS.

 

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