Kim Malsam-Rysdon, Secretary of Health

Risk Factors for Delayed-Onset Hearing Loss

A young child may have normal hearing as an infant and begin to lose hearing at the age of 2 or 3 years old. This is called delayed-onset hearing loss. Delayed-onset hearing loss, can happen at any time to a child who was born with a risk factor. The following is the list of risk factors that could contribute to a hearing loss at birth or at any time in one’s life:

  • 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. There are some genetic conditions in which hearing loss is a known characteristic:
    • Down Syndrome
    • Usher Syndrome
    • Treacher Collins Syndrome
    • Crouson Syndrome
    • Alport Syndrome
  • 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

There are additional situations that can occur at any age that contribute to a delayed-onset hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can occur any time from childhood through adulthood.

  • Infections during infancy and childhood – Certain childhood illnesses may damage the inner ear and result in hearing loss.
    • bacterial and viral meningitis
    • mumps
    • chicken pox
    • encephalitis
    • influenza
  • Ear infections – the infection can be treated with no hearing loss occurring but having many ear infections may lead to a permanent hearing loss.
  • Medicine – when used in high doses, can cause hearing loss. The following medicines can sometimes cause this problem:
    • Gentamicin – an antibiotic
    • Cisplatin – a drug that fights cancer
  • Noise – can permanently damage the inner ear. Sudden and constant loud noises over a period of time may cause a permanent hearing loss
  • Head trauma – a severe head injury needing medical attention may cause hearing loss
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