Hearing loss in babies

baby's hearing testHearing impairment is the decreased ability to hear and discriminate among sounds. It is one of the most common birth defects.

We’re not sure what causes hearing loss in babies. Some possible causes are genetics (if you or your partner has a family history of hearing loss), viruses and infections during pregnancy, premature birth, low birthweight (less than 5.8 pounds), and infections after birth.

There are degrees of hearing loss, too. A baby can have mild, severe or complete hearing loss. Other times a child can hear but the sounds are garbled. Hearing loss is a common birth defect affecting 12,000 babies in the U.S. each year (nearly 3 in 1,000). If a child can’t hear properly, he may have trouble learning to talk.

Newborn screening

Ideally, your baby should have his hearing tested as part of the newborn screening tests which are done in the hospital after your baby is born. The CDC recommends that all babies be screened for hearing impairment before 1 month of age. Language and communication develop rapidly during the first 2 to 3 years of life, and undetected hearing impairment can lead to delays in developing these skills. Without newborn screening, children with hearing impairment often are not diagnosed until 2 to 3 years of age. By then, they have lost precious time to develop speaking skills. A timely diagnosis is important!

Getting help

If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, don’t wait – have a conversation with his healthcare provider (a pediatrician or nurse practitioner). Here are other options:

  • Every state has an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. You can click here or call 1-800-CDC-INFO to locate your local EHDI program for services and information.
  • The CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities has a website on hearing loss in children, with specific pages for families, health care providers and others. The site contains information on prevention, signs and symptoms, screening and diagnosis, treatment of hearing loss, as well as statistical data on hearing loss. If you have any concerns about your child, start with the “Basics” and “Treatments” sections.
  • Additional resources and support networks related to hearing impairment and deaf children can be found here.
  • If your baby has a hearing impairment,  he may benefit from early intervention services, such as speech therapy. Learn how to access early intervention services in your area.

Bottom line

If your child has been diagnosed with hearing loss, getting help early is very important – preferably before 6 months of age.

Have questions: Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Photo credit:  Baby’s First Test

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