A child usually reacts to sound right from the time it is in the stage of a foetus. Hearing is important for the child to learn to communicate and develop various other skills. Congenital deafness occurs very rarely, that is, only 2 out of 1000 children are born with hearing impairment that affects both the ears. The condition often varies from partial hearing loss to complete deafness.
If the vestibulo-cochlear nerve, which transmits electrical impulses from the inner ear to the brain, is not developed normally, it causes congenital deafness. Also, an abnormal development of the inner ear, causes impaired hearing right from the birth. when infections like rubella or cytomegalovirus (CMV) are transferred to the foetus from the mother, they may cause congenital deafness. If the mother takes certain drugs, such as antibiotics, they may harm the foetus in its developmental stages causing deafness. In 50% of the cases, the condition runs in families, which suggests involvement of a genetic factor.
If the child doesn’t respond to loud noise, it is the first sign of congenital deafness. When the child fails to make normal baby sounds like cooing by about six weeks of age or babbling by about three months of age, the parents should take it seriously and take him/her to the doctor for a check-up. The symptoms may be noticed in the first few weeks after birth.
There is no cure for congenital deafness. However, if the child is not suffering from profound deafness, his/her hearing can be maximised with a hearing aid. A cochlear implant may also be helpful in some cases. If the child is suffering from a partial or total hearing loss, it can be easily identified during the routine developmental check-ups.
The child can be taught sign language and lip-reading. With patience and proper training, some children learn to speak as well. About 50% of the children with congenital deafness go to normal schools. And, those with impaired hearing due to Down’s syndrome need special training and go to special schools for children like them.
Immunisation through a rubella vaccine reduces the risk of congenital hearing loss in the developing foetus, but only after consulting your gynaecologist. During pregnancy, the woman should not take any over-the-counter medicines without consulting her doctor. Unless the medicines are safe for the foetus, they should not be taken. When impaired hearing runs in the family, the woman should be extra careful, and should talk with the doctor about the risk of passing this disorder to the child.