Infant hearing loss, while not common, affects thousands of children per year. Such hearing loss affects regular development and, if untreated, can lead to complications through adolescence and adulthood. Consequently, it is standard procedure to screen newborn babies for their hearing capabilities. These tests are continued for the first few months of growth and development. If there is hearing loss, this early detection provides the groundwork for best treatments including cochlear implants.
Typically, if an initial infant hearing screening raises questions, then a more thorough set of hearing tests is administered. This includes a test before 3 months of age to determine if there’s a permanent loss. For older infants, behavioral tests that measure responsiveness are appropriate. The goal is to identify the degree of hearing loss and the most effective treatment and rehabilitation course of action.
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While some may inquire about hearing aids for children, the most effective plan often involves the use of cochlear implants. Children under the age of one year are not able to use the implants, but after that, they are FDA approved. The implant does not replicate the sound. Instead, a sound processor behind the ear captures sound and turns it into digital code. The sound processor transmits the digitally-coded sound to the implant. The implant converts the digitally-coded sound into electrical impulses and sends them along the electrode array placed in the cochlea or inner ear. Finally, the implant’s electrodes stimulate the cochlea’s hearing nerve, which then sends the impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.
Research indicates that a cochlear implant can assist children in overcoming developmental delays caused by hearing loss. In fact, more than half of current implant patients are children with many positive results. However, the key to success is early intervention. Proper testing and follow-up best identify those young children who can benefit from an implant.