Newborn Universal Hearing Screening

Published by Faisal Sonde on

Are we listening to the needs of our newborn?

Blog by Ms Pallavi Wase, Masters in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology

Pallavi Wase

Ability to hear is one of the five primary senses which help us to communicate properly with fellow human beings. Unfortunately, the sense of hearing is often taken for granted and people do not realize its importance unless it is lost or impaired. Until recently, the problem of hearing loss was not a priority for the Indian Government. However, with the advent of National Program for the Prevention and Control of Deafness (NPPCD) there is a renewed interest in this mammoth public health problem.

With Neonatal Hearing screening, we can identify early and provide hearing intervention.

There are about one lakh children born in India annually suffering from severe to profound hearing loss, which affects their chance to have inclusion in society for education and speech and language development.

“No one in this world deserves to live in silence. People should know that hearing loss is treatable and that it should not prevent a person from leading an active, full life. Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) can help address these issues early in life.”

Deafness, according to the WHO refers to the complete loss of hearing ability in one or both ears, while “hearing impairment” refers to both complete and partial loss of hearing ability.

Nearly 360 million people, nearly one-tenth of them children, suffer from hearing loss worldwide. “About one lakh children born in India every year suffer from severe to profound hearing loss.

Approximately 50% of all cases of congenital hearing loss are attributable to environmental factors such as congenital hyper-bilirubinemia, ototoxic medication exposure, neonatal hypoxia, viral infections, and meningitis.

The other 50% of cases are thought to be inherited, that is of genetic causes. Of these hereditary cases, approximately 30% are classified as syndromic. About 400 named syndromes are associated with hearing loss, the associated auditory features being quite variable-sensorineural or conductive, unilateral or bilateral, and progressive and stable. This small subset of hearing loss patients (15% of all patients with hearing loss) is the group most readily diagnosed by physicians due to recognizable features other than hearing loss. The other 70% of hereditary cases are classified as nonsyndromic. This group is the otherwise perfectly normal child with the exception of hearing loss.

The deafness acquired in childhood has an enormous impact on the social, economic, and productive life of an individual. At the same time, there is a huge gap in human resources in health care to meet this health challenge.

As there are no visual indicators, most hearing-impaired children who are not screened at birth are not identified until between 1½ and 3 years of age, which is well beyond the critical period for healthy speech and language development. However, with the help of newborn hearing screening, a hearing-impaired child can be identified and treated early. In such a case, the child will most likely develop language, speech, and social skills comparable to his or her normal-hearing peers, and thus avoid a lifetime of hearing-loss related disabilities.

“Everybody deserves to hear the sounds of life” and a small step ofhearing screening will help identify and manage children with hearing loss. This would give the children brighter possibility of normal speech and language and inclusive education.

Pallavi Wase
Masters in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology
Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist.

Categories: Medical