With Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) being made compulsory in all states of the US, the government is playing its part in combating hearing loss in children. However, since hearing loss can be developed at any age during a person’s life, it is important to carry out targeted hearing screenings. However, the reality is that even the most successful program can be limited by costs, loss to follow-up and education about hearing loss. It is a scientific fact that hearing loss during the early years of a child’s life can lead to immense social, linguistic and academic challenges. Early detection can help reduce the level of disability, but this only works if the condition is diagnosed early enough and is treated adequately.
How, then, can we combat the issue of hearing loss in children? The right answer is for everyone to work together. We need to understand the risk factors that lead to hearing impairment and try to prevent them when possible. In that way, we would be getting to the root of the problem and eliminating it at the source.
Risk Factors for Hearing Loss
Some of the most common risk factors of hearing loss are:
- Family history – if other members of the family have a history of hearing loss, there is a fair chance that the baby might develop the disability, too. The right mode of action is to go for more comprehensive hearing screening and tests regularly and watch for signs of hearing loss.
- In utero infections – sometimes infections in the mother’s womb may have an adverse effect on the unborn child’s hearing. In order to prevent this, proper medical care during pregnancy is especially necessary.
- Exposure to ototoxic medication – Some newborn babies develop infections that need to be fought with strong antibiotics, such as gentamicin, which has a side-effect of hearing loss. Discussing the risks versus benefits associated with antibiotics and other treatment options with your physician is a good idea.
- Persistent otitis media – if the child develops otitis media (ear infections) repeatedly, there might be a chance that he has developed hearing loss, especially if the effusion lasts for more than three months. Special attention and care should be given to the baby in this case.
- Head trauma – one of the most preventable causes of hearing loss is head trauma. Parents should be extra careful around the baby as a fall or bump on the head can have long-lasting effects. Being especially attentive towards the baby and ensuring that other children don’t lift up the baby can help prevent head trauma.
- Diagnosis of disorders or syndromes that lead to hearing loss – some disorders, such as neurodegenerative and demyelinating disorders, lead to hearing impairment in the patient. These should be treated effectively to control the damage to hearing. Similarly, a diagnosis of syndromes associated with hearing loss, such as Turner, Alport, Waardenburg or Pendred syndrome, can also help in reducing damage.
Medical experts believe that all children should have periodic objective assessments of their hearing in order to detect the signs of hearing loss as early as possible. In this way, not only can hearing loss be controlled or reversed, but also prevented from lowering the child’s quality of life.