Causes of Non-Genetic Hearing Loss in Babies

When a baby is diagnosed as suffering from hearing loss, various risk-factors are investigated in order to determine the cause. Obviously, genetic factors can play a significant role, but in their absence, non-genetic causes for hearing loss will be investigated.

Problems at birth or during birth

If your baby suffered from certain types of stress during or at birth, hearing loss may result. This is particular true when:

  • Oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) was experienced. If your baby was deprived of oxygen during a difficult birthing process, brain damage may result. At times, oxygen deprivation can casue damage to the hearing centre of the brain resulting in hearing loss or impairment.
  • Hyperbilirubinemia (an accumulation of spent red blood cells) occurred: Hyperbilirubinemia is associated with jaundice and may cause brain damage that affects hearing.
  • Very low birth weight: Baies that have a very low birth weight are succeptible to a numbr of stresses and complications that may result in hearing loss.
  • Ototoxic medications: Sadly, when lives are being saved with drugs, the possibility of side-effects has to be weighed against the possible benefits of the medication. Ototoxic medications are only administered to infants in very extreme cases since one of the possible side effects is hearing loss.

Infections and illnesses

Although improved medical practices have reduced the frequency and severity of infant meningitis and therewith the role of meningitis in hearing loss, it remains a possible cause of the problem. However, Cytomegalovirus is a leading cause of non-genetic infant hearing loss. This virus is one of the herpes viruses, but it doesn’t have to be transmitted sexually.

As life goes on, we are exposed to more chances to pick up the virus and we can contract it through exposure to saliva and blood as well as cervical secretions and semen. Few people realize how ubiquitous this virus is. By the time you reach the age of 80, there is a 91% chance of you being a virus carrier. Unfortunately, babies infected with CMV have a 10 – 15% chance of suffering damage to their hearing. In some cases, the loss is gradual and progressive making it more difficult to detect.

CMV is the leading cause of non-genetic hearing impairment.

Other causes

We all know the theory: if you’re dropped on your head or suffer some other trauma to the head when you’re a baby, you could get brain damage. Unfortunately, the urban legend is all too true and a trauma to the head may cause hearing loss.

Very loud noises damage the sensitive cells in our ears that pick up vibrations, so if your baby has been exposed to excessively loud noise, this too could be a cause of hearing loss.

Why you need to know

It’s not about playing some sort of a ‘blame game’. Knowing what caused your child’s deafness in the first place helps doctors and therapists to pinpoint the right treatments and therapies that can be applied. Damage control is an essential step, but until you know what caused the damage, it cannot be taken.

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