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Hearing management

14 August 2018

How to recognise hearing loss in infants

It can be a challenge to determine hearing loss in infants as they are not able to respond verbally.

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If an infant has hearing loss, it can affect the child's ability to develop speech, language and social skills, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

An infant's first hearing screening is recommended typically within the first month of life.

Even if the child passes the initial screening, the CDC recommends watching for signs of hearing loss. These signs may include:

  • The child does not startle at loud noise.
  • The child does not turn to the source of a sound at six months of age or later.
  • The child does not say single words, such as "dada" or "mama" by age one year.
  • The child turns their head when they see you, but don't if you only call their name.
  • The child seems to hear some sounds, but not others.

Take this quiz if you're concerned about your hearing.

Recommended screening technologies

In a previous Health24 article, the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) recommends that infants' hearing be tested before the age of six months.

Newborn hearing screening is offered at private health facilities, but it is not universal at public hospitals. 

Recommended screening technologies include oto-acoustic emissions (OAE), which assess cochlear (inner ear) functioning, and auditory brainstem responses (ABR), which record neural activity in response to sounds.  The tests are accurate and take one to three minutes to perform.

At a very early age the infant could, however, fail the screening test because they may still have amniotic fluid in the ear canal. It is not something that you can remove with an ear bud. During a re-screen, the exact same test is performed, which is well worth the effort.

What treatments are available?

Your baby's hearing loss may not be reversible, but there are a number of options available to help them hear as much as possible.

Babies can wear a hearing aid, a small electronic device behind the ear that amplifies sound.

But in the case of profound hearing loss, cochlear implants may be the only solution. In 2016, South African baby, Neave Barrett, was one of the youngest in the world to receive a cochlear implant to give her the gift of hearing.

How a cochlear implant works

Some deaf children will, however, never be able to hear. In these cases, the child should start learning sign language as soon as possible.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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