How to Protect Baby's Hearing

Little ears need lots of attention. Here's how to make sure your baby's hearing is on track.

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Just after birth, your baby's ears should be in almost perfect working order. But in some cases they're not, and that's why experts say we should listen up from the very beginning. If your baby has undiagnosed hearing loss, it can trip up his speech development and lead to later struggles in school if, for example, he can't hear a teacher's voice above the buzz of classroom activity. Learn more about spotting problems and helping your baby's hearing.

Parents of deaf newborns rarely realize their babies are at risk.

Daniel Knowsley's parents were told not to worry when he failed a hearing screening the day after birth. False positives -- failures among hearing babies -- are common, and rescreening usually brings relief. However, Daniel failed a repeat the following day and again a week later. An audiologist diagnosed severe to profound hearing loss in the baby's left ear and moderate to severe in his right. "We were completely devastated," says mom Cyndi of Tuttle, Oklahoma. "We had no idea he was at risk." Daniel got his first hearing aids at 5 weeks; now 6, he's thriving in regular classrooms.

Daniel's parents are among the 1 in 32 people carrying a defective hearing gene. Because it's recessive, both Mom and Dad can hear fine, but the abnormality has a 1 in 4 chance of showing up in a child. Hearing loss also occurs with some genetic syndromes, such as Down syndrome. In fact, faulty genes account for 50 to 75 percent of hearing loss in newborns.

Genetics isn't the only risk. Prematurity, low birth weight, jaundice, and delivery problems such as lack of oxygen may also cause hearing loss. So can congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common infection that up to 80 percent of Americans get by the time they reach age 40. It feels like a mild cold and is usually harmless -- but in a pregnant woman it can have devastating consequences for a growing baby, including potential hearing loss. Sidestep CMV with diligent handwashing, especially after changing diapers or wiping kids' noses.

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