World Hearing Day: Why lack of public awareness delays diagnosis in critical period of growth

Of every 1,000 children born in our country, about five to six suffer from some degree of hearing loss. To add to this, many children develop hearing loss as they grow up. How difficult it must be for these children to miss out on all the sounds this world has to offer! Some of the biggest reasons for this include lack of public awareness about hearing loss, its signs and how and when to seek treatment. Societal misconceptions further compound the problem, which delays diagnosis and ultimately results in detecting hearing loss after the age of two, which is well after the critical period of growth and development.

Childhood hearing loss impacts the development of speech perception, speech production and language skills. Poor or inadequate oral communication skills become a significant disadvantage for a child’s future educational and employment possibilities. Moreover, hearing loss in childhood leads to feelings of confusion, social isolation and poor self-esteem.

The good news? Research shows that children identified with hearing loss earlier on (at birth or within the first 6 months) who receive early intervention can develop language skills that are on par with their hearing peers. These children can not only attend mainstream schools but also communicate well with their friends and teachers. The result is a happy childhood that isn’t deprived of any sounds, especially since hearing acts as an important inception point for so many emotions.

Representative Image.

Representative Image.

A recent survey by Cochlear India and First Moms Club only confirmed what I have observed in my own years of clinical practice. Around 84.1 percent Indian mothers believed that children should be tested for hearing loss at birth but only 38.9 percent of the respondents actually had their child screened.

Unfortunately, this percentage is much less across India putting all demographics together. These survey shows that while mothers are well aware of the need to detect hearing loss early in childhood, they are not fully aware of what they must do or where they can go to get their children screened. This is where I believe new-born hearing screening assumes great importance.

Hearing screening hinges on the 1-3-6 guideline recommended by experts:

1) Screen for hearing loss within 1 month from birth

2) Diagnose and confirm hearing loss by 3 months of age

3) Initiate early intervention services by 6 months of age

Countries that have made newborn hearing screening mandatory are able to take corrective measures in children as young as 6 months of age. It is encouraging to see the Kerala government pushing for universal newborn-hearing screening and I sincerely hope that this is implemented in the remaining states as well. Screening for hearing loss at birth must become our national priority if we are to give our children a sound future.

Treatment for childhood hearing loss

Children with hearing loss must be referred to and managed by a multidisciplinary team of audiologists, ENT specialists, speech pathologists and educational specialists.5 Children with mild to moderate hearing loss are normally recommended hearing aids, which is the first line of treatment. Hearing aids can be fitted in children as young as 4 weeks of age.6 Many children who do not show improvement or benefit from hearing aids can greatly benefit from cochlear implants. This is a surgically implanted electronic device that restores hearing in children with profound or severe hearing loss.

There was a time when children with hearing loss had to learn and master sign language and adjust to a life without sound. Fortunately, this does not hold true anymore! A child as young as 12 months of age can receive cochlear implants that can potentially restore hearing altogether. It is my hope that parents, my fellow peers and policymakers acknowledge the role that early hearing screening plays in helping children hear their future. If you have a child with hearing loss or know someone who does, please visit for more information.

This World Hearing Day, I urge all parents to learn more about why ‘hearing matters’ so they can make their child feel safe and happy in a world full of sound!

1) Effects of hearing loss on development: American speech – Language- Hearing Association.

2) Cochlear implants in children: American Academy of Audiology.

3) Effects of hearing loss on development: American Speech – Language- Hearing Association.

4) Callison DM audiologic evaluation of hearing-impaired infants and children. Otolaryngology Clinic North Am 1999; 32:1009.

5) Hearing loss in children: Harvard Health Publications.

(The writer is a professor & Head of Department, ENT, KEM Hospital, Mumbai)

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 14:58 PM