Hearing Loss in Infants

Parents and Their BabyLearning that your baby or child has hearing loss is a frightening scenario for any parent to imagine. In the United States, hearing loss is present in every 3 per 1,000 births.

Hearing loss in children, while not common, is a condition that can result from many causes. Approximately half of hearing loss in babies and children is genetic, where one or both parents can also suffer from hearing loss or carry the genetic material that would allow their child to have their hearing affected. Other children experience hearing loss as a result of other syndromic conditions (such as Down Syndrome), where hearing loss can be a feature of the syndrome.

Yet, there remains a group of acquired causes of hearing loss, about 25% of the scientists and clinicians are studying. Among this group, some reasons that hearing loss may be present in infants and babies are premature birth, severe jaundice, oxygen deprivation, and infection. Infection with Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a known cause of sensorineural hearing loss in babies and is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. Approximately 1 out of 200 babies is born with congenital CMV.

One Out of Five Babies Have Symptoms or Long-Term Health Problems

According to the CDC, one out of five babies with congenital CMV will have symptoms or long-term health problems, such as hearing loss. Babies with congenital CMV, meaning that the child has contracted the virus through the infected mother during pregnancy, may have hearing loss in one ear and may later develop hearing loss in the other ear. Progression may occur through adolescence. Hearing loss may progress from mild to severe during the first two years of life, a critical period for language learning. Currently, clinicians at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh are participating in an NIH trial, studying whether the use of antiviral drugs will impact the progression of hearing loss of babies within their first two years of life. Preliminary results show that treatment with a particular antiviral drug improves outcomes and allows for a higher degree of hearing.

Hearing Loss’s Impact on Development

Hearing loss has a significant impact on learning, comprehension, and development. Interventions such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and speech and language therapies can help treat hearing loss and ensure that children do not suffer developmental delays and are able to thrive.

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