One of the best feelings in pregnancy is when you start sensing your baby moving around and kicking you, especially when seemingly in reaction to you speaking to your bump. Babies are able to respond to auditory stimulation by 25 to 29 weeks of pregnancy, which means that full-term newborns already have more than two months of auditory experience. However, not every child born has perfect hearing and in some cases babies are born with hearing deficiencies.
Hearing loss is common among newborn infants with an incidence rate of three to six per 1,000 live births per year globally, with the Middle East leaning toward the higher end of the spectrum. Approximately 25 per cent of these children have a severe to profound hearing loss while the remaining percentage is affected to a lesser degree.
The effect of hearing impairment on your baby is vital as it will affect your entire baby’s quality of life, development and the ability to speak and read properly later in life. Being able to hear is one of our most vital senses for growth and development, without it, our quality of life decreases which can lead to depression and other mental issues. In addition, education can suffer greatly if a child is not able to hear properly during class and that often leads to frustration and a significant decline in academic performance.
Above all, we all want our children to be healthy and to live life to the fullest. This is why it is important to check for any signs from your newborn, or child, and take action as soon as you sense something may be amiss. Doctors can help with this, but it is vital that your new baby is screened for hearing deficiencies soon after birth so as a new parent you can take immediate steps to ensure your baby has the best chances of a full, natural development into an infant, child, adolescent and adult. In addition, hearing screenings should be performed regularly throughout the child’s school years even if the initial newborn screening was clear.
Some signs that you should be looking for with your newborn baby could be a birth defect on the outer ear or an ear infection. One or both ears may not be properly formed. A new born baby with a hearing loss should startle when there is a loud noise nearby. On a wider scale, young children should be using single words by 15 months and two simple words sentence by age of two; if they do not or have not yet reached these milestones the cause maybe hearing loss.
There are some factors that might be an indication of hearing loss for your newborn baby such as family history of hearing loss, low birth weight, or infections that you can pass to your baby during pregnancy such as measles or herpes.
If you do spot some symptoms of hearing loss in your child you are recommended to take them for examination where a qualified paediatric audiologist will use a variety of diagnostic tools to evaluate your child’s hearing sensitivity. If hearing deficiency is diagnosed, don’t worry as there are many ways to treat it. Some such treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, aural rehabilitation, and subsequent speech language therapy. Every hearing deficiency case is different, but with modern technology and expertise, all symptoms are curable and the chances of your child developing in the most natural way possible are very high.
Hearing loss can also affect children later in life if parents don’t take precautionary measures to protect their children’s hearing. Constant exposure to loud sounds and not wearing protective headgear or earplugs during water activities can cause hearing problems over time. So keep the TV and music players set at an acceptable sound level and make your children wear their helmets or ear plugs during sporting activities.
Hearing is the only sense that can be ‘recovered’ with suitable treatment and rehabilitation, but this needs to be done at the right time so the earlier you intervene, the more successful the treatment will be.
If you don’t notice any of the below signs, see an audiologist to check your child’s hearing:
Does your baby at…
Birth to four months:
- Awaken or stir at loud sounds?
- Startle at loud noises?
- Calm at the sound of a familiar voice?
- Respond to your voice (smiles or coos)?
Four to nine months:
- Turn eyes toward source of familiar sounds?
- Smile when spoken to?
- Notice rattles and other sound-making toys?
- Cry differently for different needs?
- Make babbling sounds?
- Seem to understand simple word/hand motions such as “bye-bye” with a wave?
Nine to 15 months:
- Babble a lot of different sounds?
- Respond to his/her name?
- Respond to changes in your tone of voice?
- Say “ma-ma” or “da-da”?
- Understand simple requests?
- Repeat some sounds you make?
- Use his/her voice to attract attention?
- Point to familiar objects when they are named?
- Listen to stories, songs and rhymes?
- Follow simple commands?
- Use several different words?
- Point to body parts when asked?
- Name common objects?
- Put two or more words together?
Words: Dr. Basel Chaykhouny, Medical Director for hearLIFE Clinic.