Children should have their hearing screened at birth, say UAE doctors

Nine out of ten parents recommended that if anyone suspects that their child has a hearing problem, they should seek help immediately.

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DUBAI // Seven out of 10 children with hearing problems have them diagnosed after the age of 2 – harming their ability to learn to speak – even though they should be screened at birth, a survey suggests.

Dr Ahmed Abdelatty of NMC Royal Hospital said the delay in detection could lead to major problems in the child’s communication.

“We need hearing to develop language and to communicate,” said Dr Abdelatty, an ear surgeon. “If the child isn’t able to hear in the first two years of life, he won’t be able to develop language.

“But if a child has moderate hearing loss and uses a hearing aid in the first year, he will develop language normally.

“Otherwise he will have delayed language development. Most of the parents wait in UAE. They deny the problem. I don’t know why but this is an attitude.

“It may be a simple problem and may need a small procedure, but in some cases parents think the child is just pretending.”

More than 450 people in the UAE were surveyed for Hear I Am, a study into hearing loss.

Sana Sabbah, director of research at the Pan Arab Research Centre, found that in most cases the children had not been not screened for hearing problems at birth and the parents had not been told to have the tests done.

They only found out that their child had a problem after 2 years of age because about then “parents realise that their children are not interacting with others the way they should be”, and they go to see a doctor, Ms Sabbah said.

Signs of hearing loss include children showing no reaction to sound, late speech development and failure to understand and follow instructions.

Dr Ravinder Verma of Medcare in Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai, said most hospitals carried out screenings of a child’s hearing the day after they were born, although that was not always effective.

“About nine to 10 months is a crucial time when people find out,” Dr Verma said. “Before that, it’s tough to diagnose hearing loss in a child.

“If the teacher or the babysitter or anyone realises that the child isn’t responding well, then seek help immediately as most of the causes of hearing loss are treatable.

“The delay can also lead to a permanent problem. Come and seek help as soon as you can.”

David Raetz, chief executive at cochlear implant company Med-el Middle East, said early intervention could be the difference between a child leading a fully integrated life or not.

“We have seen from the studies that if you wait longer, it can be harder for the child to pick up with their peers as they have been in silence longer,” said Mr Raetz.

The World Health Organisation says hearing loss could result from genetic causes, complications at birth, a lack of oxygen at the time of birth, some infectious diseases or chronic ear infections.

“Early detection and intervention are crucial in minimising the impact of hearing loss on a child’s development and educational achievements,” the WHO said.

“In infants and young children with hearing loss, early identification and management through screening programmes can improve the linguistic and educational outcomes for the child.”

The Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the launch of the Help Me Hear initiative recently, which helps children aged between 6 months and 4 years who are suffering from hearing loss.

The ministry also aims to provide support to children who have hearing impairments by making treatment free of charge.

The WHO says more than 5 per cent of the world’s population – 328 million adults and 32 million children – suffer from disabling hearing loss.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the WHO has estimated that about 3 per cent of people have disabling hearing loss, though Med-El’s survey estimated that the figure was 4 per cent in the UAE.

The survey was commissioned by Med-El and conducted by the Pan Arab Research Centre.