Nitin, 1-year-old boy was suffering from congenital hearing loss due to Waardenburg-Shah syndrome, a rare genetic condition. He was not able to hear or respond to surrounding sounds since birth and was not able to talk as well even though both his parents were normal. Nitin was initially treated for his other health conditions which were also due to the syndrome and later doctor gave a trial of hearing aid for both the ear to treat his hearing problem. Since Nitin could not hear any sound even after using the hearing aid, doctor performed cochlear implant and now the boy can enjoy sound.
Similar to Nitin’s case, identifying hearing loss in babies at an early stage and providing timely treatment can help in improving the kid’s quality of life.
While some children are born with hearing problem due to genetic reasons, others may have developed it due to illness or an infection during pregnancy. Although, the kids are screened for hearing issues soon after birth, some parents may skip or ignore the treatment. Also, if the congenital hearing loss is mild, it may even go unnoticed.
What is congenital hearing loss?
Congenital hearing loss is the condition where the baby faces hearing loss at birth. The consequences of experiencing hearing loss since birth is severe as these children may not be able to develop speech and language abilities.
A child may be diagnosed with hearing loss if they can’t hear sounds below a certain level of volume either in one ear or both ears. The minimal threshold is usually around 15 to 20 decibels of sound which is equivalent to the sound of rustling leaves. Though this is considered as a slightest degree of hearing loss, it makes children tougher to understand certain parts of speech which can affect them in future.
Causes of congenital hearing loss
In most cases congenital hearing loss is due to genetic reasons, it can also be caused by other illness or trauma during birth.
Hereditary congenital hearing loss
In these cases, kids inherit the hearing problem from their parents. This causes a loss of functionality in the hearing organs. Hearing loss due to genetic problems can be present at birth or may develop later in life.
Most common causes of hereditary hearing loss are:
- Down syndrome
- Usher syndrome
- Treacher Collins syndrome
- Crouzon syndrome
- Alport syndrome
- Waardenburg syndrome
Non – Hereditary congenital hearing loss
This mostly occurs due to the illness or trauma during pregnancy. Maternal exposure to certain medications may also lead to congenital hearing loss of the baby.
Most common causes of non-hereditary congenital hearing loss:
- Infections during pregnancy such as herpes simplex, cytomegolavirus
- Low birth weight
- Birth injuries
- Drugs and alcohol consumption during pregnancy
- Complications associated with the Rhesus factor in the blood, which causes jaundice
- Diabetes during pregnancy
How can it be treated?
The advancements in technology have made it possible to treat the hearing loss among kids. Depending on the cause and severity of hearing loss in kids, treatment methods like hearing aids, Cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing systems and a combination of speech therapy can be recommended. In case you notice that your child shows any symptoms or signs of hearing loss or speech delay, take him to the doctor so that he/she can get a timely treatment.
Following are a few things you can do to help your child and yourself:
Get educated: Understand about congenital hearing loss and how it will be identified. If the baby shows symptoms of any hearing problem after few months, consult the doctor immediately.
Communicate: Connect with support groups for parents of children with hearing loss. They understand what you must be going through and can give you a lot of advice as well as information.
Connect with your kids: Some children with hearing loss feel left out when they are with other kids of their age. But early treatment and hearing aids can reduce the chances of them feeling alone.
It is important that you listen to your children and try to understand what they are going through. It is important to talk to them, spend time with them, and find the right support for them if they are going through any health issues.
By Dr. Santosh Shivaswamy, Senior consultant, ENT & Cochlear Implant Surgeon