Hearing disorders in the first years of life can cause language developmental delays, speech impairments and a delay in cognitive development. Today it is known that speech and language difficulties that are secondary to hearing difficulties can be prevented, and therefore there is a great importance to early detection of this condition.
Serious hearing disorders are quite common - 1-3 out of every 1000 children at birth suffer from them. A temporary hearing disorder is much more common, as almost all children will suffer from temporary hearing impairment due to ear infections before the age of 11.
Difficulty hearing can be caused from an external source (for example ear wax which blocks the external ear canal) or from an internal cause (for example a congenital disorder affecting the nerves of the ear). Of course there could be a mixed internal and external cause. There is a long list of causes that can cause hearing difficulties. Some of these are reversible with medical treatment or medical, and therefore it is extremely important to understand what the source of the problem is.
Despite this, between a quarter to a half all babies and children with a serious hearing disorder are unaware of the cause for their condition.
In many Western countries, every child is screened for hearing problems before being discharged from the hospital. Studies have shown that the screening has a higher chance of recognising a child with a congenital hearing disorder compared to a test done by a Pediatrician. In addition, the post birth screening provides earlier recognition of a hearing disorder and earlier treatment which has been proven to improve the long term language and developmental functioning. Studies have also shown that the screening was able to lower the age of diagnosis of hearing disorder from 2 years to 2 months!
There are a few risk factors for congenital hearing impairment, which include:
Children who were hospitalised in the ICU for more than 5 days
A family history of hearing disorders
Congenital facial anomalies
Intra uterine infections
Difficult jaundice post birth
Difficulties around time of birth
Medication with a potential to cause hearing loss
The more risk factors a child has, the higher their risk of suffering from hearing problems. Keep in mind though, that the number of children with at least one risk factor from the above list is high, therefore most kids with risk factors won’t suffer from hearing disorders , and in either case there is room for more tests. Children with risk factors will be sent for further evaluation in a hearing clinic even if the initial screening test is normal.
If the child fails the screening test, the child will usually be followed by their Pediatrician.
What’s warning signs are important to look out for?
Even if your child passed the screening, always be aware and look out for signs that could point to a hearing problem. You should speak to your Pediatrician if you notice any of the following:
Doesn’t get scared from loud noises by one month
Doesn’t turn around to noises around 3-4 months
Doesn’t notice you until you’re in their line of vision
Focuses more on noises with vibration than other types of noises
Doesn’t answer when you call their name
Doesn’t say simple words by the age of 12-15 months, or if there is a delay in speech
Seems to notice some noises, but not others
Turns up the volume of the TV more than other family members
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