What parents must know about early detection of hearing loss in children

"If the cells inside the cochlear, which convert the sound waves into electrical waves, are destroyed because of anything it could affect hearing," explains Dr J M Hans.

Just like our other organs, the ears need regular check-ups, too. It takes a while for a baby to develop all the senses, which is why birth deafness or hearing loss may not come to the fore immediately. Dr J M Hans, who is a Senior Consultant-Paediatric Cochlear Implant at the Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, discusses this in a recent Facebook live on Express Parenting, wherein he talks about the early detection of hearing problems in children, and when to opt for a cochlear implant. Here are some excerpts.

After quickly explaining the human ear, Dr Hans informs that hearing actually starts in the seventh month of the intra-uterine life. He says while the rest of the ear — mostly outer and inner — can be taken care of by means of surgeries and such, should something go wrong, in the case of cochlear, nothing can be done.

“If the cells inside the cochlear, which convert the sound waves into electrical waves, are destroyed because of anything — it could be measles, mumps, or any other viral infection; it could even be trauma or drugs, or there could be something congenitally wrong — it could affect hearing,” he says.

On different kinds of deafness, Dr Hans says there are four: congenital deafness, pre-lingual deafness (meaning, before the child started to speak), peri-lingual deafness (meaning, the child had started hearing and speaking some things, before becoming deaf), post-lingual deafness (meaning, the child was doing well, listening, speaking, and suddenly lost the ability to hear because of a viral disease, drugs, trauma, blast injuries, to name a few).

How does the cochlear implant help?

“It gives us auditory perception, speech recognition, and speech formation. That means, if you operate on a child, who is about 10 years old, and has been deaf since birth, he would only hear, and not be able to understand or speak. But, we have seen children who have been given a lot of speech therapy, and they have done extremely well even at later age groups. But, the same child, if he is about 18 years old, then there is no chance; only auditory perception,” he explains.

How is a cochlear implant different from a regular hearing aid?

“A hearing aid just gives an outer device, and it amplifies the sound. But, sometimes we have to put something in the skull, and the electrode goes inside the cochlear. As a surgeon, I will have to put an implant inside and there will be a device outside also. There is a magnet in the device that is inside the skull, and the device that is outside. When they connect, the sound is collected by the microphone. It gets converted into digital sound, and through radio frequency, it is given to the inside device, which is working with the battery of the outer speech processor,” he explains.

Among other things, Dr Hans says that parents need to take their child to a paediatrician or an ENT surgeon, if they think they have deafness. Doctors can tell if they associated problems also. “When we treat hearing loss in a child, we have a battery of specialists available. We have a paediatrician, an ENT surgeon, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a rehabilitationist, an audiologist and a radiologist. We need the radiologist to understand the condition of the cochlear, whether it is right, whether the nerve is right. All these things have to be considered before we say ‘this is the problem and this is the prognosis’,” he says.

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