Unilateral and Mild Hearing Loss in Infants and Young Children

January 31, 2005

Principle Investigator: Judith Gravel, PhD
AUCD Institution: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
AUCD RTOI #: 2005-03-03

There has been a growing concern among professionals over children with permanent bilateral mild hearing loss (MHL) and unilateral hearing loss (UHL), impairment in one ear only. Prevalence estimates of these forms of hearing loss range up to 5% in school-aged children, a rate significantly higher than that of moderate to profound degrees of sensory impairment in the same population.

Several developmental domains may be impacted by the presence of MHL and UHL including communication, speech perception, functional auditory abilities, social-emotional development, academic performance, and families' quality of life. When grade retention and the need for resource services are considered as indicators of the potential negative consequences of these forms of hearing loss, up to 50% of school-age children with MHL and UHL may be affected.

Currently, little is known about the consequences of UHL and MHL in children 5 years of age and younger. Controversy surrounds which early intervention services including hearing aid use are effective, the optimal timing of intervention, and which children are in need of such services. Variation exists at the local, state, and national levels.

Through three separate but related aims, the proposed investigation will focus on children with UHL and MHL in the age range from infancy through pre-school. The broad long-term objectives of the studies are to: 1) survey current audiologic practice patterns used for the assessment and management of infants and young children with UHL and MHL across the United States; 2) determine whether hearing screening targeted at identifying permanent hearing loss in the preschool setting can detect young children at risk for UHL and MHL (currently missed by mandated newborn hearing screening programs); and 3) study the usefulness of various audiologic management strategies for infants and young children who have been confirmed as having UHL.

Early intervention services and appropriate amplification provision may ameliorate or prevent the possible negative effects of mild and unilateral hearing loss in young children. Determining areas in which practice variation exits, as well as effect early identification and audiologic management strategies can support the development of educational and public health policies, as well as professional guidelines for use with this population.