Hearing loss is the number one birth defect in the United States. Many states are making it mandatory to screen newborns for hearing impairment. Still, many parents are not aware of the devastating and lifelong effects that hearing loss can have on a child, even from at birth. In this audio program, we will focus on hearing impairment in young children, addressing the facts and some parental concerns regarding early detection in the development of their child’s hearing.
How does the human ear work?
The human ear is made up of three parts. They are the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Together, these parts help process sounds. The outer ear is the part that is visible on your head. It is called the pinna. It picks up sound waves that travel through the pinna’s canal. Located in the middle ear is the eardrum. When the eardrum picks up sound waves, it begins to vibrate. This vibration then moves three tiny bones in the ear, which move the sound towards the inner ear. These three bones are called the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. These vibrations journey towards the cochlea, which is a spiraled piece of the inner ear that is filled with fluid. Nerve cells in the cochlea have tiny hairs on its surface. These hairs send the sound information to your brain, permitting you to hear.
How is hearing tested in newborns?
There are two different types of hearing screening tests used today to screen hearing in newborns and infants. The tests are completely safe and comfortable for your child, and they can be used separately or together. In most hospitals, newborns are first screened using otoacoustic emissions or OAE’s. In this test, a tiny microphone and earphone are placed in the baby’s ear and sounds are introduced. Normally when the sound goes off, an echo is reflected back into the ear canal. With newborns who suffer from hearing loss, an echo cannot be measured. If newborns do not pass this test, they are then given an auditory brainstem response, or ABR. In this test, sensors are situated on the child’s head to measure nerve response to sounds that are played. These tests are usually done while the baby is asleep and take under five minutes.
When is the most critical time in diagnosing hearing loss in my child?
The most crucial time in getting your child screened for hearing loss is immediately. In fact, according to some state laws in the US, it is a requirement to screen newborns and infants for hearing loss. Children who are born with very mild hearing loss can still be significantly challenged with language development. With early detection, children can function at the level of their peers, are less likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral problem, or held back in school. Even children with hearing loss in only one ear are ten times as likely to be held back a grade.
What is a cochlear implant?
Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that provide hearing to those with profound or severe hearing loss. The cochlear implant has two different parts. The outer part of the implant rests behind the ear, while the other part of the implant is surgically inserted under the skin. A cochlear implant includes a microphone, which picks up sound waves. It is then sent to the speech processor to be filtered and analyzed. A transmitter and receiver then convert these waves into electrical impulses. Electrodes have been placed inside the cochlea in lieu of the tiny hairs on the nerve cells. They collect impulses from the stimulator and send it to the hearing or auditory nerve, usually bypassing the interpreted damaged parts of the cochlea. The auditory nerve then passes the signals to the brain.
What are the benefits of a cochlear implant?
With early detection and intervention, it has been reported that special education is unnecessary when it came to children who housed the implant for more than 2 years before starting school. These children functioned at the same, sometimes accelerated rate of their peers with normal hearing. Research also shows that children who participate in concentrated language and speech programs developed excellent oral communication skills. Children and their families can save up to as much as $420,000 in special education costs, and roughly $1 million for each individual fitted with the implant throughout their lifetime.