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Infant Hearing

Hearing loss is the most common birth defect in America according to the National Center on Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM). Everyday in the United States, approximately 33 babies are born profoundly deaf, and another 2 to 3 of every 1,000 babies are born with partial hearing loss each year (12,000 every year). Even more children lose their hearing later in childhood due to a variety of causes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss among newborns is 20 times more prevalent than phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition for which all newborns are screened, yet not every newborn's hearing is tested. Hearing loss present at birth usually goes undetected until delays in language development later become so acute that parents and pediatricians begin testing the child's ability to hear. The average age that a child with hearing loss is identified in the U.S. is 12 to 25 months of age, yet language acquisition actually begins at birth and progresses very rapidly during the first three years of life. Studies show that children with hearing loss who are diagnosed and receive appropriate early intervention services by six months of age are usually still able to develop good language and learning skills; but children who are deprived of critical language learning opportunities by an unidentified hearing loss experience related disruptions in social, emotional, cognitive, and academic growth.

About half of all hearing loss cases are thought to be caused by environmental factors (loud noises, bacterial or viral infections, or drug interaction), and the other half are due to genetic causes. Approximately half the children with hearing loss have no risk factors for it.

A baby's hearing may be affected by:

  • Exposure to prolonged, high-decibel noise like that found near airport runways or at rock concerts

  • Family history of hearing problems

  • Serious problems during birth that may have deprived the baby of oxygen

  • Premature birth

  • Infections in the mother present at birth, including Group B streptococcus and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)

  • Prenatal exposure to disease, such as rubella, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis

  • Some types of birth defects, such as Waardenburg Syndrome

  • Infections during infancy and childhood such as bacterial and viral meningitis, mumps, and chicken pox

  • Chronic middle-ear inflammation (otitis media), which may cause scarring of the Eustachian tubes if your child has frequent ear infections.

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