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Hawke’s Bay kids over-represented in hearing loss

Deafness awareness week: Hawke’s Bay children over-represented in hearing loss statistics

This week is Deafness Awareness Week, where the focus is on screening babies for hearing loss so early intervention can help prevent long-term learning and social problems.

Recent statistics from the National Audiology Centre in Auckland show that Hawke’s Bay children are over-represented in hearing loss statistics. While Hawke’s Bay children represent 4% of the population, they account for 12.4% of notifications for hearing loss. Hawke’s Bay is one of three regions over-represented by children with hearing loss. The other areas are Northland and Auckland.

Nationally, Maori children accounted for almost half (49%) of the notifications.

Each year six to seven Hawke’s Bay babies will be born with some form of permanent hearing loss. Hawke’s Bay District Health Board charge audiologist, Wendy Poludore, said the earlier hearing loss is picked up and treatment started, the better the outcome for the child.

“In Hawke’s Bay hearing aids can be fitted in babies by three months of age, in New Zealand, cochlear implants are surgically implanted from 10 months of age, and grommets can be inserted in babies with recurrent glue ear by six months of age.

“Gisborne Hospital have been screening all new-born babies for the past six years. They are picking up twice as many children with hearing problems, than previously when they were selectively screening ‘high risk’ babies at birth. High-risk babies include those born to families with a history of hearing loss; severe birth asphyxia or malformed ears.

“We would like to start screening all new-borns in Hawke’s Bay, and have put in a proposal for the equipment and resources we would need,” Wendy said.

“There are two ways of testing a baby’s hearing: Otoacoustic emissions are low-level sounds created by the cochlea or inner ear, which can be measured in the external ear canal. \a device is inserted in the ear while the baby is sleeping and gives an instant pass/fail result.

The second system is called Auditory Brainstem Response. This is a specialised test which doesn’t measure hearing directly, but assesses the function of the hearing nerves in the inner ear, and the nerve pathways going to the brain. It is carried out while the baby is asleep.

“If you are worried your baby or toddler may be suffering hearing loss, you should talk to your doctor or Wellchild provider in the first instance, and they can refer you to an audiologist for further testing.

“Hearing loss can be hard to recognise as hearing-impaired children can still react to loud noises, which leads parents and caregivers to believe their baby’s hearing is fine,” Wendy Poludore said.

One family’s experience:

A Central Hawke’s Bay family discovered the benefits of early detection of hearing loss the hard way.

Claire and Ross McCormick were starting to worry that their 22 month old daughter, Bridget wasn’t talking, but had seen her turn her head towards low frequency sounds such as the dog walking on shingle and assumed her hearing was OK.

They put her lack of response due to being totally absorbed in what she was doing. “You would think that as a parent that you would know, but with the lack of understanding of hearing loss at different frequencies it is not so obvious. Also children are very good at compensating through feeling vibrations and becoming very visual,” Claire McCormick said.

“Doctors checked inside her ear canal and said she was fine, and mentioned that often the second child didn’t talk as early as the first.

When Bridget still showed little signs of talking a couple of months later Claire talked to her Plunket nurse, who carried out basic tests, like slamming doors and clapping her hands.

Bridget didn’t turn towards the sounds, and was referred to an audiologist. It wasn’t until Bridget was 28 months old that she saw the audiologist, due to a combination of holiday season, a waiting list, and the fact she had fluid in her ear.

Bridget was found to be severely deaf in one ear and had significant hearing loss in the other. Late detection had already delayed her language development and in the long term, threatened to hinder her social growth.

Despite their experience with Bridget, they thought their second daughter Ashleigh, was developing normally. Hawke’s Bay District Health Board audiologist Wendy Poludore advised on a routine test, and conducted an Auditory Brain Stem response test on the six- month old girl. It showed that Ashleigh was in fact almost as hearing-impaired as her elder sister.

Now aged seven and eleven, and fitted with funky fluoro green and bright blue hearing aids and supported by one-on-one teacher-aide assistance at school, Bridget and Ashleigh are two regular kiwi kids, socially active and getting the most out of life.

Mum, Claire says the difference that early detection made for their second daughter Ashleigh was significant. “Because she was picked up at six months, her speech is much clearer than Bridget’s. “Although Ashleigh’s hearing continues to deteriorate, because she was fitted with hearing aids at six months she had a chance to develop her speech sounds at an earlier age, and this has made a huge difference to her development.

“Unless people catch a glimpse of her sparkly hearing aid, they might not know she has hearing problems.”

“The girls are very proud of their hearing aids, and only too happy to explain to other children why they wear them. There was no chance of my girls having a skin-tone colour aid, when these very colourful sparkly ones were on offer!,” said Claire McCormick.

Outside of school hours the girls love to dance and Bridget is a keen horse-rider. Together with their brother, they are great animal lovers and collect various pets from ducks to lambs. Wendy Poludore said most hearing-impaired children – particularly those who start school before their problem is diagnosed are not so lucky. “Frequently people think they’re stupid because they can’t follow what’s going on around them, and their self-esteem suffers terribly.

“With a screening programme in place, any hearing problems can be picked up earlier and the outcome for the child is always going to be better,” Wendy Poludore said. “We’re hoping to have a screening programme up and running in Hawke’s Bay next year.

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