A type of nerve deafness present at birth, congenital hearing loss can happen from hereditary genetics, factors present when the fetus was in-utero, or infectious diseases that could be transferred from mother to child.
Although uncommon, infants can display hearing loss at birth. Find out how you can tell if your newborn has a hearing disorder and how you can help.
Common Reasons for Hearing Disorders in Children
Often, a child suffering from hearing loss after birth results from damage to the nerves in the inner ear from an infection, injury, or a tumor.
If your child has contracted the flu, chicken pox, mononucleosis, or meningitis, they could be at risk. Certain medications can also affect congenital deafness, such as chemotherapy drugs, loop diuretics, salicylates, and some antibiotics.
A build-up of fluid in the inner ear can also cause temporary issues until the fluid is cleared or surgically removed if necessary. Untreated fluid can cause permanent hearing loss, although a rare occurrence, which produces structural changes to the ear bones or eardrum and wrecks more havoc.
Usually, congenital hearing loss in newborns is something they’re born with and inherit from their parents, even if both have completely normal hearing. Sometimes, kids born with hearing impairments are caused by a mother’s viral infection and can be treated.
Common reasons that newborns experience hearing disorders include:
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Birth injuries
- Maternal diabetes
- Infections such as rubella or the herpes virus
- Jaundice and Rh factor problems
- Preeclampsia, or pregnant mothers with high blood pressure
- Anoxia, or the baby being deprived of oxygen during delivery
- Drug and alcohol use while pregnant
Genetics (from either parent) is the sole cause of hearing loss in many newborns, but it can also develop later in life. Some genetic syndromes can cause hearing loss in your baby as well, including:
- Usher syndrome
- Down syndrome
- Alport syndrome
- Treacher Collins syndrome
- Crouzon syndrome
- Waardenburg syndrome
Why Early Testing is Important
Hearing problems are the most common birth defect in American, so catching the problem early and finding solutions are crucial to a child’s development.
Sadly, the babies that are born with congenital deafness can suffer language delays, trouble with reading, and issues with developing social skills because they have trouble communicating in their early years.
The sooner a child can find the individualized language training, hearing aids or implants, and other treatment for their hearing, the more likely they are to reach developmental language milestones with other kids their age. It’s best to tackle the problem before the baby reaches six months old.
Your baby’s hearing should be tested by a newborn hearing screening at the hospital before you’re sent home. Most states require newborn screenings, however, not every state does.
The tests only take around five to ten minutes to complete. However, if newborn hearing tests weren’t conducted at the hospital, you may want to ask a doctor to check within the first month at least.
Signs of a Problem at Home
Hearing disorders can develop later on as well, making parents and caretakers the first to realize when there may be a problem. Your baby should react to sounds in the following ways:
- Newborns startle when they hear loud sounds
- Around 2 months old, a baby will quiet when they hear mom’s voice
- At 4 or 5 months, babies will move their head in the direction of a noise
- Nearing 6 months, a baby will babble and try to imitate sounds
- Around 9 months old, babies hear a soft sound and turn toward it
- Before 1 year, kids should be able to respond when they hear music and say a few simple words.
Take note if your baby does not or stops reacting to the sounds around them as they should and always speak to a doctor immediately if you think your child may have trouble hearing.
Treatment for Children Born Deaf
If your child was born with deafness, consult an audiologist that can help find treatment possibilities. Babies can use hearing aids that fit behind the ear to amplify the sound, just like adults.
In severe cases, your child may be a perfect candidate for cochlear implants. Implants are best for kids that have a severe hearing loss and are unable to benefit from the use of traditional hearing aids, as they function as a replacement for the inner ear and allow sound to amplify.
Kids with hearing trouble often need speech therapy for several years and may need to learn sign language to function in society.
Depending on your scenario, treatment options may include:
- Speech therapy
- Using a hearing aid or cochlear implant
- Medications to combat infections
- Ear tubes to help fluid-caused or persistent ear infections
- Surgery for any ear structural problems
Preventing Further Hearing Damage
While there is no cure for damage to the inner ear or nerves, your baby can live a normal and happy life. You can’t prevent every type of hearing trouble, but you can seek immediate help if you think your newborn has trouble hearing and tackle treatment options to prevent the issue.