How common is hearing loss in children?
Hearing loss is common in Kentucky, and it isn’t just confined to older adults; 1-3 out of every 1,000 Louisville babies are born with hearing loss, and almost 15 percent of children aged 6 to 19 have a low- or high-frequency hearing loss of at least 16 decibels in one or both ears. The majority of patients can benefit from hearing aids, but there are a number of barriers preventing them from receiving the treatment they need.
Why Children Might Not Get Hearing Aids in a Timely Manner
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a retrospective cohort study of pediatric patients diagnosed with hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids to determine which demographic, socioeconomic and clinical factors affected their access to hearing aids. Results showed that insurance type, race/ethnicity and primary language were all closely associated with the timeliness of access to hearing aids.
Researchers looked at 90 patients aged one to 15 who were referred for auditory brainstem response testing and evaluation for hearing aids between March 2004 and July 2018. They focused on several key areas:
- Insurance type (private vs. public)
- Primary language
- Cause of hearing loss
- ZIP code
- Hearing aid manufacturer
- Severity of hearing loss
The mean patient age was 5.6 years; 56 percent were female, and 77 percent were non-Hispanic.
Was there a connection between children’s hearing loss severity and diagnosis time?
Results of the study found significant associations between public insurance and race/ethnicity, as well as public insurance and primary language other than English. There was an average of six months’ delay between birth and these children’s first ABR tests. By contrast, severity of hearing loss was associated with a decrease in the interval from ABR testing to ordering of hearing aids. ZIP code and complexity of the child’s medical condition didn’t have an affect either way.
These results illustrate the importance of assisting parents with ABR testing and helping coordinate follow-up testing is needed to improve access for at-risk children.
How does a hearing aid improve a child’s ability to learn?
The need for early intervention for children with hearing loss is well-known. Pediatric hearing aids help improve speech intelligibility and language outcomes, especially when they are worn before the age of three months. Similar improvements occur in speech, language and reading skills and academic development.
Children who have been fitted with amplification devices are more likely to attend mainstream schools and report a higher overall quality of life.
What keeps children from an early hearing loss diagnosis?
And yet, delays in diagnosis and intervention continue to be a problem. Studies have identified a number of potential barriers to access including Medicaid, difficulty in scheduling appointments, a need for repeated testing and financial/insurance issues. The purpose of the Johns Hopkins study was to identify correctable factors preventing timely diagnosis of hearing impairment and delaying access to pediatric hearing aids.
Researchers looked at when the newborn hearing screening was performed and the first ABR test result was obtained, and when hearing aids were ordered and dispensed. Each patient’s hearing loss was categorized according to its medical complexity.
A breakdown of the study results shows that:
- Patients with public insurance waited 13 months on average between their newborn hearing screening and first ABR test, while those with private insurance averaged 7 months. The more severe the hearing loss, the less time elapsed. There was no statistical difference for the time interval between the ABR test and dispensing of hearing aids.
- White patients waited on average 6.3 months compared with 12.3 months for patients of other races and ethnicities.
- Patients whose primary language was English waited 6 months less from birth or their newborn hearing screening to undergo ABR testing (9 months versus 14.9 months).
These delays in treatment aren’t confined to hearing loss patients. Similar findings exist for children with other pediatric diseases. Finding a solution is paramount to ensure our children receive timely care in order to improve their chances for long-term success.
Contact us if you have concerns about your child’s hearing
For more information, contact an audiologist in Louisville.
Learn more about hearing loss in children:
- Facts for Louisville Parents with Deaf or Hard of Hearing Kids
- Can Hand Dryers Hurt Kids’ Ears?
- How to Protect Your Kids’ Ears from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss