Sunday 19 November 2017

Infant screening reduces impact of hearing loss

Early screening can prevent hearing loss.
Early screening can prevent hearing loss.

AROUND 180 newborns, who are now routinely screened for hearing problems, are being referred on for more assessment every month, while nine are found to suffer permanent deafness.

The figures emerged as the HSE announced that more than 100,000 newborns in Ireland have now been screened for hearing impairments.

The HSE said around 75,000 babies a year are now offered the screening in all maternity units, and one to two children in every 1,000 are born with hearing loss in one or both ears.

Dr Gary Norman, national clinical lead for audiology, commented: "The screening programme aims to identify hearing impairments as soon as possible after birth.

"The earlier a hearing loss can be picked up in a baby, the better the outcome that baby will have in terms of developing speech and language skills, as well as developing social and emotional interactions from an early age."

The screening, which is carried out by the firm Northgate Public Services, was finally introduced in recent years for all babies.

Previously, several children were at risk of having their hearing problems missed.

The first six months of a baby's life is a critical period for learning to hear and speak.

Communication and behavioural skills are influenced by a baby's ability to hear but, if hearing loss goes undetected, or is diagnosed later rather than sooner, it can lead to delayed speech and language development as well as social problems and setbacks in education.

Joe Bradley, executive director at Northgate, pointed out: "So far, there have been 144 babies in Ireland diagnosed with a permanent childhood hearing impairment since we started screening and parents have been very grateful to have an early diagnosis."

If a baby is found to have a hearing problem, they are enrolled in an early intervention programme, which may include the fitting of hearing aids, before the baby is six months old.

The HSE said: "Universal newborn hearing screening seeks to identify all babies born with a congenital, unilateral or bilateral, moderate to profound permanent childhood hearing impairment before the baby is three months old

"Around three per cent of babies are referred from the screening programme to the HSE audiology service for more intensive assessment and are normally seen within four weeks of being referred."

An information guide, with frequently asked questions and answers and booklets in English and Irish, are available on the website, www.newbornscreening.ie

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