KidsMD Health Topics

Hearing Loss in Babies

  • Overview

    If your baby suffers from hearing loss, don't feel alone. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 12,000 babies are born each year in the United States with a hearing impairment. It is estimated that serious hearing loss occurs in about one to three of every 1,000 healthy newborns, and in two to four of every 100 babies in newborn intensive care units.

    • Without screening or testing, hearing loss may not be noticed until the baby is more than 1 year old.
    • If hearing loss is not detected until later years, there will be no stimulation of the brain's hearing centers. This can affect the maturation and development of hearing, and can delay speech and language.
    • Social and emotional development and success in school may also be affected.

    Most hearing loss is congenital (present at birth), but some babies develop hearing loss after they are born. Hearing loss is more likely in premature babies and babies with respiratory problems who have required long-term use of breathing machines, those with previous infections, and those taking certain medications.

    Because of these risks, many health organizations including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommend universal infant hearing screening. This means all newborn babies should be screened for hearing loss. Most states have laws that require universal newborn hearing screening.

    Beyond the newborn period, the parents may be the first to detect hearing loss in their child. Unfortunately, many children with severe hearing loss from birth are not diagnosed until 2 1/2 or 3 years of age. Other children—with a less severe hearing loss—may not be diagnosed until 4 years of age. Identifying a baby's hearing loss early helps the baby to learn language on time.

    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115


  • In depth text

  • Research & Innovation

    Most cases of deafness are caused by the dysfunction or death of cells in the cochlea, the snail-shell-shaped structure in the inner ear. Douglas Cotanche, PhD, a researcher in Otolaryngology, now reports that his lab has grown all the assorted cell types in the cochlea from just one source: neural stem cells. The study was published online June 20 by the journal Hearing Research.

    Neural stem cells were first isolated from mice in 1998 by Evan Snyder, MD, PhD, formerly of Children's Department of Neurology. Cotanche's team implanted the cells deep inside the sound-damaged cochleas of guinea pigs and mice. Six weeks later, the cells had migrated throughout the cochlea and formed satellite cells, spiral ganglion cells and Schwann cells, which make up the cochlea's nervous tissue, as well as the hair cells and supporting cells of the organ of Corti (the actual hearing organ). "Getting these cells to integrate into the damaged ear and make the variety of cochlear cell types is a big step," says Cotanche.

    The researchers couldn't show complete rebuilding of the cochlea, but they believe that with more time and more stem cells, most of the cochlea could be repopulated. Cotanche's next goal is to implant human neural stem cells in animals and test whether the new cochlear cells connect with the auditory nerve and the brain, and whether they respond to sound stimulation—in other words, whether they restore hearing.

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