Most babies have perfect hearing at birth. However, roughly 2 to 3 in every 1,000 babies in the United States are born with a hearing loss. This percentage is higher for premature births. These numbers make a hearing loss the most common congenital disability. When you consider that children rely on their hearing to learn from the beginning, it becomes clear that hearing problems must be addressed as soon as possible. Children who don’t receive the proper treatment suffer language delays, reading difficulties, and have trouble developing social skills.
The March of Dimes states that a premature baby is a baby born before 37 weeks. In the United States, this is about one out of every ten births. The earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of complications. While it is correct that a baby can be born with a hearing loss, a premature baby can develop hearing problems later in life due to low birth weight, abnormal inner ear development, or because of infection later on in life.
Genetic hearing loss is a term for hearing problems that are present at birth. This type of hearing loss can affect one ear or both ears and can result in partial or complete deafness. Hearing loss in babies is most frequently the result of a genetic defect. However, this risk of hearing impairment is higher in premature babies. This risk increases if the mother had an infection during the pregnancy such as:
According to researchers, antibiotics that help premature infants cope with the numerous infections they face leave them at risk for hearing loss. Because of this connection, investigators are trying to develop testing in the acute neonatal setting that can quickly determine if certain antibiotics will adversely affect a newborn. The screening is fast allowing for the administration of the proper antibiotic within the recommended time frame.
Hearts for Hearing is working to screen newborn infants as soon as possible. Hospitals can contact the group from the bedside and schedule an appointment as soon as it is convenient for the family. The goal of the organization is to remove the burden of waiting for long periods for a baby’s hearing to be checked. The purpose of Hearts for Hearing is to provide information quickly as well as answer questions from the family. At the follow-up diagnostic testing, professionals involved in the baby’s care are present to answer any further questions the family may need to ask.
Premature babies face many obstacles and are at high risk for numerous infections. The risk of hearing loss rises among this group of babies. Because a hearing impairment can have a profound impact upon a child’s ability to learn and communicate it is essential to identify these problems as soon as possible. With researchers addressing how to administer proper antibiotics and groups working to screen babies for hearing problems in a timely fashion, the future is looking better for premature babies.