Hearing loss requires early intervention as it can delay development of language and cognitive skills
One-year-old Anushree Datta’s parents are worried their baby is not responding to sound. Although they had noticed this a few months ago, elders brushed aside their fears saying all children in the family were late bloomers.
But when the baby did not respond even after completing a year, the parents consulted a specialist, who confirmed their worst fears that she was suffering from congenital hearing impairment.
Hearing impairment can impose heavy social and economic burden on families.
It can delay development of language and cognitive skills in children, hindering their progress in school. The extent of delay depends on the degree of hearing loss, audiologists say.
A debilitating disability, hearing loss and deafness, affects over 24 million children in India.
Congenital hearing loss can either be hereditary or caused by viral infections during pregnancy. Factors such as premature birth or lack of oxygen at the time of birth, apart from RH factor incompatibility and developmental disorders, can also cause hearing loss.
Audiologists say screening for hearing loss in all newborns is a must. If the baby does not cry immediately after birth or cries late, it should be considered as a possible warning sign.
Lack of awareness, negligence and delay in detection are the main causes for the increasing number of affected children. Early detection is a must, says audiologist M.S.J. Nayak.
“Although the incidence of congenital hearing loss used to be two in every 1,000 children earlier, it has now increased to four in 1,000 children. This is an alarming trend and several studies have shown this in India. Screening of newborns for hearing loss should be made mandatory,” he says.
Audiologist G. Krishnakumar says deafness can be detected within hours of birth and the child rehabilitated with the use of a hearing aid. But it is unfortunate there is not much awareness about this, he adds.
“Lack of awareness and audiologists in government hospitals is the main problem. The government must equip its hospitals with the required infrastructure to tackle this silent impairment. Anganwadi workers and Accredited Social health Activists (ASHAs) should be trained to identify the warning signs of hearing loss among babies in rural areas and inform parents to seek medical advice,” he says.
In children over a year old, parents should watch out if the child’s speech is delayed or not clear. “Sometimes when the child does not follow directions, it is mistaken for not paying attention or that it is just ignoring [the speaker]. But this can be an indication of partial or complete hearing loss,” Mr. Krishnakumar says.
Mark the milestones
Babies and children should reach milestones in how they play, learn, communicate and act.
A delay in any of them could be a sign of hearing loss or other developmental problem, Mr. Nayak adds.