Baby with the potential for hearing loss lying in bed.

Early intervention can prevent difficulties with hearing loss.

Unfortunately, there are many cases of infants with significant hearing loss. This loss of sound can occur at birth. Other times, hearing loss in infants develop slowly, becoming worse over time. It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of damage to the middle and outer ear. A loss of sound may occur due to birth defects, a buildup of fluid and ear wax, or because of a rupture to the eardrum. Researchers at the University of Colorado made a recent discovery, showing that early intervention of hearing loss can help your child later in life.

Early Intervention for Hearing Loss

Lead author Christine Yoshinaga-Itano is an audiologist and research professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Yoshinaga-Itano’s team worked to assess the impact of Early Hearing Detection Intervention (EHDI) 1-3-6 guidelines. The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing developed these guidelines 17 years ago. These guidelines suggest that the following steps should be taken:

  1. All newborns should be screened for hearing loss within the first month.
  2. If the test is positive for hearing loss, parents should see a specialist within three months for an evaluated.
  3. Within six months, parents should start early interventions based on their child’s diagnosis.

About 96% of U.S. infants undergo the screening process. For one reason or another, some parents only go through with the first step. Several difficulties prevent parents from affording or meeting the requirements to improve their child’s hearing.

In a previous study, Yoshinaga-Itano looked at children with hearing loss in Colorado. The state has done well to promote early intervention for hearing loss.

Yoshinaga-Itano notes that “We showed that failure to diagnose hearing loss early can create an environmentally induced and preventable secondary disability, making children function much like children with cognitive delay.”

How Intervention Affects Speech

The research team at the University of Colorado at Boulder looked at 448 infants with hearing loss in both ears. The age of these children ranged from 8 to 39 months. Almost 58 percent of the kids have met the EDHI 1-3-6 guidelines.

To measure the impact of meeting these guidelines, the researchers how well these children learn vocabulary and language. The team measured the number of words the kids used when either speaking or using sign language via the Vocabulary Quotient (VQ) score. The difference was startling. Children who met the guidelines score significantly better than those who didn’t.

“We can’t change how much hearing a child has at birth or the educational background of a parent, but we can develop better systems,” says Yoshinaga-Itano. “Policymakers need to do whatever they can to make transitions from one step to another as seamless as possible so parents can meet the 1,3,6. And parents should know that there is an urgency to assuring that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to language as quickly as possible.”

Hopefully, the new study can show the need for parents to seek early intervention for their child. Like most diseases, the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to treat.