In the U.S., each year about 12,000 babies are born with irreversible hearing loss. The data available with the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management indicates that the most common birth defect, three out of every thousand, is hearing loss of some kind.

Some people are not able to hear some of the softer sounds while others are not able to hear anything whatsoever. Wearing hearing aids and undergoing therapy of some sort is quite common in children with hearing loss.

In the most extreme cases, cochlear implants remain the only option. If a part of the ear is damaged, hearing aids which only amplify sounds are not effective; but cochlear implants are effective because they pass the sound directly to the auditory nerves. Hearing can never be brought back to the original state even with these devices.

According to doctors, the best option is to screen babies as early after birth as possible. Language skills can be built more effectively if treatment is started within the first few months of a baby's life.

A new procedure is helping in detecting hearing loss in babies right after birth. If medical experts are able to detect hearing loss in babies within the first six months, the new procedures can ensure a near normal language development.

22 to 26 months is about the age at which hearing loss gets detected in children. Concerned parents and caregivers first detect speech related problems which ultimately to an underlying hearing problem.

It is now possible to screen all newborn babies for hearing loss even before they leave the hospital.

Otacoustic Emissions are able to conclusively establish a newborn's hearing ability. The ear canal receives sounds through a soft probe. The probe has an embedded microphone which receives an echo produced by the cochlea, or inner ear. The 10 minute screening procedure for each ear has been reduced to a mere 10 seconds.

Babies failing the OAE test prompt the doctors to administer the Auditory Brainstem Response test. In the ABR test, the baby's ears receive sounds through a disposable earphone, and the auditory nerve's responses to these sounds are measured through three painless electrodes placed on the baby's head and shoulders.

Fifteen minutes is all it takes for each ear.

Before starting these tests, doctors confirm that babies are sleeping. Quite often, hearing problems do not get detected till the age of 2 years when they manifest themselves as either speech related issues or language development problems.

If all babies are screened, it will be possible to provide special attention to those who need it. If this is done, children with hearing problems will still be able to develop their language skills like any other individual and also lead a near normal life on other counts as well.

An audiologist is required for diagnostic testing in the case of children who fail both these tests. Diagnostic testing by an audiologist becomes essential in the case of about 2 percent of the babies.

Amplification equipment, to compensate for hearing loss, is available even 2 year old infants. These children are sure to develop normally if this kind of help is made available early.

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