A new review of medical databases shows that neonatal hearing loss, already one of the most common birth disorders in the United States, is especially prevalent among Hispanic-Americans and those from low-income households, according to the April 2009 issue of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Alexandria, Va. The wide-ranging study focused on hearing loss in newborns (neonates), children, and adolescents.

The authors also note serious flaws in the collecting of data on pediatric hearing loss, resulting in a fractured body of knowledge that is hindering a more complete evaluation of the problem’s scope.

The researchers found that the average instance of neonatal (younger than one month old) hearing loss was 1.1 per 1,000 infants screened. The number varies from state to state, with cases being most prevalent in Hawaii (3.61 per 1,000), followed by Massachusetts and Wyoming.

When looking at children as a larger group (combining neonatal through adolescent), the research indicates that compared to other ethnic groups, Hispanic-American children in all subgroups (Mexican-American, Cuban-American, and Puerto Rican) show a higher prevalence of hearing loss, with a similar prevalence existing in children in low-income households. The authors note that it is unclear whether instances of hearing loss actually increases as children grow older, adding particular weight to the neonatal results.

The authors conclude that in addition to the statistics presented, there exists a need to establish a more unified system for the collection of regional and national health data. They note that within the existing databases, data collection methodologies are not standardized; the authors suggest creating multi-institutional national data repositories in an effort to standardize the information as it is collected. This could include a neonatal hearing loss screening registry within the Universal Newborn Screening Programs.

Approximately two to four of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing. Studies have shown that early diagnosis of hearing loss is crucial to the development of speech, language, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities. One in every four children born with serious hearing loss does not receive a diagnosis until age 3 or older, making early hearing screening a necessary step for ensuring a healthy life for a child.

The study’s authors are Donald G. Keamy, MD, PhD; Roland D. Eavey, MD; and Saral Mehra, MD. They are associated with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, and Columbia University, New York.

[Source: American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) and the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy (AAOA)]