Last week the Ministry of Health announced that it is working, together with the autonomous communities, so that the early detection of hearing loss is included in the offer of population screening of the portfolio of common Public Health services.
The objective of this proposal is to improve early detection, diagnosis and treatments and even the necessary interventions to alleviate the problems derived from hearing loss.
Most childhood hearing loss occurs in the first year of life and 80% are present at birth. The early detection and intervention in congenital hearing loss improves the results in the development of language, reading or communication.
The prevalence of hearing loss in the newborn is estimated between 1.5 and 6 cases per 1,000 live births (estimation of the OMS according to the degree of hearing loss). Regarding incidence, it is estimated from 1 to 3 per 1,000 live newborn infants for permanent, bilateral, and moderate to profound congenital hearing loss.
If mild and unilateral hearing loss are included, the figure increases to 3-5 per 1,000 children. In newborns with risk factors, the incidence of moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss is 10 to 20 times higher than in the general population.
The specialists of the Spanish Society of Otorhinolaryngology are clear that the need to extend newborn screenings to detect hearing loss it is justified not only by these incidence data but by several other reasons:
• In the first place, because 50% of the cases of deafness in neonates occur in individuals without risk factors for suffering it.
• Because 90% of hearing impaired babies have normal hearing parents.
• Furthermore, 60% of childhood deafness has a genetic origin.
• And because up to 40% of cases of severe and profound hearing loss are candidates for a cochlear implant.
What is the early detection test?
Tests to detect ear problems early are already carried out in many autonomous communities about 24 hours after the baby is born.
As explained by the Spanish Association of Pediatrics, there can be two types: otoacoustic emissions and auditory evoked potentials. Both are very simple and most importantly, they don’t hurt!
In the oto-emissions test, a small probe is installed in the ear canal that emits sounds and collects the response produced in an area of the ear called the cochlea.
To perform the auditory potentials test, headphones are placed that emit sounds and the signals that reach the brain are collected through sensors placed on the scalp.
If these checks are not made before the child and the mother are discharged after delivery, it is important that they are carried out in the first month of the child’s life.
Why is it important to detect hearing loss so early?
Because the negative effects caused by hearing impairment can only be alleviated by applying techniques and procedures capable of stimulating hearing capacity as early as possible, taking advantage of brain plasticity in the first years of life and stimulating communication and language development.
Among the procedures used to alleviate hearing loss are the use of cochlear implants, electronic devices that can help deaf people hear.
It is a very effective formula to reduce severe hearing loss.
It is not a machine for amplifying sound, like hearing aids, but a sound processor that sends sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.
Going into detail, it is placed behind the ear and the sound signals it captures are sent to a receiver implanted under the skin, from which they go to the electrodes implanted in the inner ear that is shaped like a snail (cochlea). Hence its name.
When the signals stimulate the auditory nerve, it directs them to the brain, which interprets them as sounds that it then sends to the brain. And he interprets them, although the sounds that come to him are not the same as those of normal hearing.
That is why it takes time and work to learn to interpret these received signals. And hence the importance of early detection, so that a child from a very young age can get used to it and assume that way of listening as natural.
In any case, within a year of its use, most people with cochlear implants achieve important results and can face a normal life.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.