October 5, 2010

Hearing Tests for Babies

Parker,-Molly-NEWBy Dr. Molly Parker
Don White Hearing Aid Center

Seniors have a unique perspective on life because they’ve “been there” and are in a position to provide guidance to others. Thus I think it is worthwhile to write about children from time to time. Hearing loss is not uncommon among babies compared to other abnormalities such as Down’s Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, etc. The prevalence of hearing loss ranges between .5% up to 3% of all births. Most of the time, we don’t know the cause of hearing loss but there are red flags including a family history of hearing loss, skin tags around the ears, and disorders that are associated with hearing loss.

Babies’ hearing is screened at the hospital when they are only hours old. Babies can begin using hearing aids by the time they are a week old. There is no reason to wait to use hearing aids until the child is older. Many states indicate that hearing aids should be fit by the time the baby is six months old. The reality is that on average, children are still not tested nor fit with hearing aids until they are 2+ years old. These delayed hearing aid fittings result in a delay in language development. A hearing impaired 2-year old child may still be saying single words when other 2 year olds are talking in sentences.

As an audiologist, my cardinal rule is: Parents know!! If mom or dad has a concern, it is easy to confirm your child’s hearing ability, no matter what the age. Occasionally a parent informs me that they are being advised to wait to get tested until kindergarten. In my office I can test babies as young as 6 months old. We can test at an earlier age–it is fast, easy and painless. Most tests take about 5 to 10 minutes. Audiologists can easily determine if parents have a legitimate concern for hearing loss, or if there is a potential medical concern, such as ear wax or possible ear infections that could be treatable.

Please understand that if your child needs hearing aids, it is not a life-long label for a disability as many fear. When fit at a young age, babies adapt very easily to hearing aids and they have no problems until adults create a stigma. It has been repeatedly shown that hearing aids, if appropriately fit and consistently used, can significantly reduce the effect of hearing loss on speech and learning. The earlier hearing aids are used consistently, the less hearing loss will affect kids over their entire lifetime. We live in a time where we can show off our differences. Hearing aids are small, functional and versatile.They are fun with zebra stripes, stickers and swirly colors; they are fashion statements among kids. Hearing loss and hearing aids do not change who an individual is but improves the quality of their lives.

If you have concerns for a child who may have hearing loss, you should get a referral from your physician for a hearing test and ask to have the results explained to you in detail.