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.
Diagnosing Hearing Loss in Newborns
Most hospitals screen a newborn’s hearing shortly after birth. 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.
What Are the Causes of Newborn Hearing Loss?
While most babies are born with normal hearing, there are some who do have a hearing loss at birth, or develop one early in childhood. Risk factors include:
- Premature birth or other complications.
- Family history of hearing loss.
- Frequent or chronic ear infections.
- Infections such as meningitis or cytomegalovirus.
- Exposure to very loud noises.
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.
Signs of Hearing Loss in a Newborn
Newborn hearing loss sometimes develops shortly after birth. Even if your child passes the initial hearing screening, these signs and symptoms may indicate a hearing impairment:
- Failure to startle when exposed to a sudden, loud noise.
- No recognition or response to your voice.
- Limited, poor, or nonexistent speech.
- Difficulty learning.
Infant Hearing Loss Treatment
Treatment depends upon the type and extent of hearing loss your child is experiencing. Hearing aids, assistive listening devices, or cochlear implants are all commonly used to treat hearing loss. Your child’s audiologist is best qualified to make a recommendation based on his or her unique situation.