Research into late onset hearing loss has profound implications in Australia

A child receiving a hearing test at RIDBC Jim Patrick Audiology Centre

The January 2013 edition of the American Medical Association’s Journal of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery included the study ‘Children With Sensorineural Hearing Loss After Passing the Newborn Hearing Screen’.

The research project is the largest of its kind, profiling children with hearing loss who originally passed their newborn hearing screening test in Pennsylvania, United States of America.

The results of the study are useful in an Australian context because they clearly demonstrate the possibility that children who pass newborn hearing screening may acquire a hearing loss at a later point in childhood. The study also highlights the important role that parents play in identifying hearing loss in children.

Through newborn hearing screening approximately one in every 1000 newborns in Australia is found to have a significant hearing loss. However, for a further one in 1000 children, a hearing loss will not be detected until later in their early childhood, often not until they reach school.

“This latest study had a sample size of 923 children, 78 of whom passed their newborn screening only to later be diagnosed with hearing loss. The average age at which those hearing losses were identified was 4 years 6 months. Two main groups of later-diagnosed children were identified. In 35% of cases, the further investigations that led to the diagnosis were instigated by parents who expressed a concern something wasn’t ‘right’. A further 32% comprised children who did not pass a hearing screen at school,” said RIDBC Renwick Centre Director, Professor Greg Leigh who is also Chair of the Australasian Newborn Hearing Screening Committee.

These are important statistics because they highlight the role for parents, teachers, and medical care providers in recognising the signs of possible hearing difficulties and in recommending further testing, regardless of whether children may have passed their newborn hearing screen.

“Parents in particular should be encouraged to continue to check their child’s developmental milestones. The Personal Health Record Book, which all new parents receive when their child is born, includes a series of milestone questions about hearing at every age from 6 weeks to starting school. Those questions are a very useful guide to parents about what they should expect in regard to their child’s listening and speaking abilities at different ages,” said Professor Leigh

“For example, by age five children should be able to speak in sentences of more than five words, tell a story, and be able to speak clearly enough to be understood by strangers. While all children learn at different speeds, a slow acquisition of language may be attributed to some level of hearing loss and any concerns should be discussed with the child’s health care provider.”

The Pennsylvania study showed that the average age of diagnosis for later onset hearing loss was four and a half years, although this ranged from as early as one month up to ten years.

“By the time children reach school, those with undetected hearing loss are likely to have had limited access to sound through many of their key developmental years. This can have a considerable impact on speech, language, cognitive development and social skills,” said Professor Leigh.

In Australia, just like in the United States, newborn hearing screening has greatly enhanced the outcomes for children with hearing loss. Early access to skilled intervention through agencies like the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children is able to ensure that early-diagnosed children have the best possible opportunity of staying on track with their development. It is important that hearing losses that may have been undetected early on or are acquired later in childhood are also identified at the earliest possible time so that those children can also stay on track with their development.

“Newborn hearing screening is a fantastic imitative but it is not the end of the story when it comes to identifying childhood hearing loss. We really need families and health professionals to understand that a childhood hearing loss can develop over time. Parents, teachers and medical professionals all need to be alert to the signs of hearing loss and seek to have a child’s hearing tested where there is any doubt.”

To make an appointment to have your child’s hearing assessed contact 02 9872 0872.

RIDBC Jim Patrick Audiology Centre is a dedicated paediatric audiology centre which incorporates the latest technology for hearing assessment of children from birth onwards.