While many incredible strides have been made in recent years in the care and survival rate of premature babies, hearing loss still remains a prevalent issue. In 2017, the American Academy of Audiology reported that 15 out of every 100 premature infants are at risk for hearing loss, including hearing loss that could be considered “significant.” Contrast this with the odds for full-term babies—only one to three in every 1,000 full-term newborns is at risk for hearing loss.
For families with premature newborns, it’s essential to be educated on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of hearing loss. Audiologists can play a significant role in ensuring that newborns are properly screened and cared for.
Prevention: Experts in the field agree that certain antibiotics routinely used to prevent infection, including those used with premature infants in neonatal units, can put the newborns at risk for side effects like hearing and vision loss. Hearing loss does not occur in all cases in which these antibiotics are used; researchers have found success in using genetic testing to predict the likelihood of such side effects, in which case a different antibiotic can be used.
Medical professionals are also working to develop variants of these antibiotics to reduce the risk of hearing loss. From current research, it appears that premature infants with a family history of hearing loss are at greater risk.
If you have a premature baby who needs to receive antibiotics, or if you have a family history of hearing loss, ask your child’s doctor about genetic testing to determine the likelihood of hearing loss and the possibility of using a different antibiotic.
Early care and resources: Early care is crucial for both the premature newborn and their families as they navigate the often-unfamiliar experience of caring for a child with hearing loss. Organizations like Hearts for Hearing, based in Oklahoma City, help families and hospitals schedule hearing screenings at the earliest possible time. They also provide resources and connect families with audiology professionals to ensure that the parents’ questions are answered.
While this early care is essential, audiology professionals understand that their relationship with the patient and their family often extends far beyond those first few months. In many cases, a premature newborn’s full needs are not known at the beginning, and the audiology professional works to ensure that all of the child’s needs are met through follow-up appointments in the coming months and years.
Screening and diagnosis: Proper screening and diagnosis of hearing loss is crucial, especially for premature newborns. If hearing loss is not correctly identified, it can often lead to negative effects on the child’s development of language, speech, and communication.
Audiology professionals recognize the importance of enhanced screening options for premature infants to ensure proper early diagnosis. Appropriate assessment is also essential for infants as they grow and develop, especially those with complex health problems that can cause delayed development. For premature newborns or for developmentally delayed children, audiologists may recommend using an objective screening known as evoked potentials.
If you have a premature newborn, or if you are concerned that your child may have hearing loss, please contact us today. We are ready to help.