Within a day of birth, between 85% and 99% of newborns are screened for hearing loss. Identifying infant hearing loss as soon as possible is important because early treatment can significantly enhance the level of speech and language development in babies with this disorder. Cochlear implants are one type of treatment used to treat hearing loss in small children, but it's not clear whether they're effective for babies under the age of 1. Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine in New York City investigated the safety and effectiveness of cochlear implants in infants.
Cochlear implants are small electronic devices, implanted in the skin behind the ear, that enhance sound for children and adults with severe to profound hearing loss who cannot hear or understand speech with hearing aids. Eighteen children with severe to profound hearing loss identified during newborn hearing screening who underwent cochlear implant surgery participated in the study. The children attended regular follow-up visits to ensure the cochlear implant was functioning effectively and that the child wasn't having any problems after surgery. Before surgery, 3 months after surgery, 6 months after surgery, and every 6 months afterward, parents of the children completed questionnaires about their child's hearing related behaviors. The parents noted whether their children responded to noises and whether they began vocalizing.
Immediately after surgery, none of the children experienced complications. About a year after the cochlear implant was placed, one child developed an infection in the skin behind the ear, which required antibiotics and removal of the implant. Later, a new implant was placed without any problems.
All of the children in the study experienced substantial improvement in their hearing within 6 months of surgery, and according to parent and doctor reports, all of the children began developing hearing and language skills appropriate for their age.
What This Means to You: The results of this small study indicate that cochlear implants effectively help babies with hearing loss begin to develop age-appropriate speech and language skills. Because the ability to hear is crucial for speech and language development, your child's hearing should be evaluated shortly after birth and during well-child exams. If you suspect that your child is having trouble hearing, talk to your child's doctor about having him or her undergo formal hearing evaluation.
Source: Susan B. Waltzman, PhD; J. Thomas Roland, Jr., MD; Pediatrics, October 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2005