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Newborn hearing screening won't catch all cases of childhood hearing loss

March 21, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • About one-third of chldren who receive cochlear implants passed a newborn screening hearing test.
About one-third of chldren who receive cochlear implants passed a newborn… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Newborn hearing screening has been considered a valuable addition to newborn care over the last decade. The earlier children with hearing loss can be identified, experts say, the sooner they can begin therapies to learn sign language or be evaluated for cochlear implants.

However, a new study shows that many children pass the screening test only to be diagnosed as hearing-impaired later on. The study, published Monday in the Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery, found that one-third of children who later received cochlear implants initially passed the newborn screening test. It appears that some children have a delayed onset of hearing loss that stems from the inner ear or central processing centers of the brain. This type of loss is not detected immediately after birth.

"When universal newborn hearing screening programs were initially conceived, it was presumed that most hearing-impaired children, especially those without risk factors for progressive hearing loss, would fail the objective screening performed during the newborn period," the authors of the study, from Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, wrote.

"However, since that time, it has been recognized that many causes of childhood hearing loss are associated with progressive loss," they added.

Researchers examined 391 children who received cochlear implants in Illinois between 1991 and 2008. Children born after the 2003 implementation of newborn screening in the state had much higher rates of screening: 85% compared with 32% before the law went into effect.

The children who failed screening underwent implantation on average at 1.7 years of age, compared with 2.6 years for those who passed the initial screening.

"Delayed onset of [some types of hearing loss] limits our ability to achieve early diagnosis and implantation of a significant number of deaf children," the authors said. "This problem will not be solved by the current design of universal hearing screening programs."

Related:Suddenly, Sounds. Diagnosed As Profoundly Deaf When He Was 1 Year Old, With Cochlear Implant Surgery, A Toddler Can Now Hear And Speak.

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