Hearing Loss, Impairment & Problems in Newborn Babies, Causes, Hearing Test & Treatment

Hearing loss or impairment is inability to hear in one or both ears. It can also develop as the child grows. It can be mild, moderate or profound. Hearing loss or impairment can seriously affect a child’s social, emotional and cognitive abilities. The good news is that hearing problems can be treated with ear surgery or medication. If diagnosed early, ideally by the time the baby is 3 months old it can be treated. Be sure to have your child’s hearing tested and evaluated early. At Columbia Asia Hospitals, we mandatorily examine all our newborn for hearing impairment.

Causes of Hearing Loss in Babies
Hearing loss may occur when there is a problem in the outer or middle ear. These problems may prevent sound waves from passing through. These include:
  • Birth defects that cause changes in the structure of the ear canal or middle ear
  • Buildup of ear wax
  • Buildup of fluid behind the eardrum
  • Injury or rupture of the eardrum
  • Objects stuck in the ear canal
  • Scar on the eardrum from infections
Another type of hearing loss is due to problem with the inner ear. It may occur when the tiny hair cells that move sound through the ear are damaged. This can be caused by:
  • Exposure to certain toxic chemicals or medications while in the womb or after birth
  • Genetic disorders
  • Infections that pass on from mother to baby in the womb like measles, herpes)
  • Infections that can damage the brain after birth such as meningitis or measles
  • Problems with the structure of the inner ear
  • Tumors
Premature babies and underweight babies are susceptible to hearing impairment.

Types of Hearing Test for Newborn Babies
Hearing loss makes a baby unable to hear sounds below a certain level. Symptoms for hearing loss are noticed if the baby is not startled by a loud noise nearby or is unresponsive to familiar voices. However a comprehensive hearing test conducted by a physician will be more accurate. Some of the techniques used on newborn infants are:
  1. ABR – Auditory Brain Stem Response hearing test uses patches called electrodes to see how the auditory nerve reacts to sound.
  2. OAE – Otoacoustic Emissions hearing test uses microphones placed near the ear to detect nearby sounds and check for echoes in the baby’s ear canal. 
Hearing Loss Treatment for Newborn Babies
Hearing loss treatment in newborn babies depends on the type and extent of hearing loss. Some of the common treatments are listed below:
  • Cochlear implants (in case of profound sensorineural hearing loss)
  • Medications for infections
  • Ear tubes for repeated ear infections
  • Ear Surgery to correct structural defects
Apart from these, supplementary treatment in the form of speech therapy may be required to help the child develop normal language skills. Keep in mind though that damage to the nerves and inner ear are not curable.

Prevention of Hearing Loss in Newborn Babies
Prevention is better than cure, it is said. While all cases of hearing loss in newborn babies is not preventable, a few pointers to help a would-be mother is to make sure all vaccinations are up to date for the mother. Once pregnant avoid taking any medicines without consulting the doctor. If your family has a history of genetically related hearing loss, one should consult a doctor before getting pregnant.

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