Kim Malsam-Rysdon, Secretary of Health

Causes of Hearing Loss at Birth

Parents often wonder if something they did caused their baby’s hearing loss. In most cases, the answer is "no." Hearing loss may occur at birth, or as the baby grows.

The following are reasons that may cause a baby to have a hearing loss at the time of birth or as the baby grows:

  • Low Apgar score – a score of 0-4
  • Low birth weight weighing less than 1,500 grams or 3.3 lbs at birth.
  • Infections – of both the baby and the pregnant mother can cause hearing loss for the baby. If a pregnant woman suspects that she has been in contact with someone who currently has any of the following infections she should contact her doctor immediately.
    • German measles (rubella) - hearing loss caused by German measles is not as common since the vaccine (MMR) has been part of the immunization program.
    • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) - is a virus from the same family as herpes. There is no immunization against CMV. It is spread in the air and droplet form.
    • Toxoplasmosis - is an infection found in people, cats, birds, and other animals. Most people with toxoplasmosis have no symptoms at all. To prevent exposure pregnant women needs should avoid cat litter or dirt and should not eat uncooked meat.
    • Syphilis - is a disease caused by bacteria that can be treated with penicillin and other antibiotics.
    • Group B streptococcus (GBS) – a germ that lives in the lower intestine and vagina. There are no symptoms that occur for women with GBS. It can be detected with a blood test.
    • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) – an infection that causes blisters mostly on the genitals. If you have herpes discuss with your doctor if you should have a C-section so the baby does not have to pass through the birth canal.
  • Genetics/Family history – traits passed from generation to generation. Researchers think that up to half of all childhood hearing loss may be passed down through the family. This may be true even when no other family member has a hearing loss.
  • Extreme jaundice – baby’s skin looks yellow; baby needs a blood transfusion
  • Admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) conditions needing close medical attention
  • Head, face and ear anomalies – the appearance of the baby’s head, face or ears are not what was expected
  • ECMO – a special blood exchange
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