Early diagnosis of Thurrock babies’ hearing difficulties improves life chances

THE new-born hearing screening service at Basildon University Hospital has now been running for ten years, and has tested the hearing of more than 57,000 babies in that time. Team leader Amanda Jones says that early diagnosis makes a significant positive difference to the lives of children with hearing difficulties.

Amanda says: “Before new-born hearing screening became a national programme, babies with significant hearing loss were not diagnosed properly until the age of 18-24 months.

“By that time they were very behind with speech and language, which affects their development, education, socialisation, employment prospects – all their chances in life. The earlier in life a child gets a hearing aid, the better the outcome.”

Amanda says she and her colleagues notice a real difference between youngsters who were diagnosed early with hearing difficulties and those who were not.

She says: “Children who used to attend schools for deaf are now more likely to be educated in mainstream schools with additional support – even those with significant hearing loss.”

The new-born hearing screening team at Basildon Hospital, l-r, Pat Deal, patient pathway coordinator; Amanda Jones, team leader; Samara Dar and Sana Anwar, audiologists; Michelle Peak, Barbara Bright and Maureen Pooley, newborn hearing screeners

Under the new-born hearing screening service, all babies are offered a hearing test.

This is usually done on the maternity ward where they were born. Audiologists use hand-held equipment with a small probe that goes in the baby’s ear. Sounds at certain levels produce echoes from the ear, which allows the audiologist to assess the baby’s hearing.

Just over three per cent of babies fail two screening tests and are referred to the audiology service. If they are found to have a permanent hearing loss they are seen by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor and have detailed investigations to try to establish the cause of hearing loss, such as a virus, or the anatomical formation of the inner ear. Clinicians will also investigate whether it is a progressive condition that may become more severe over time.

Case study

When Alena Nemockova’s new born son Finley was referred to Basildon Hospital for a hearing screening test, she was not unduly concerned.

Finley was born in Dartford hospital in 2012. He did not pass the new born screening test and was referred to the specialist service at Basildon Hospital for further tests.

“But I did not feel worried because they said it is not uncommon and it may not mean

anything that he failed at first,” said Alena. “But then he had more sophisticated tests at Basildon and we were told that he has a severe hearing loss in his right ear, and also hearing loss in his left ear. That was a shock, because we did not think there was a history of hearing difficulties on either side of the family.”

Finley was given further tests, including a CT scan, to establish the cause of his hearing loss. It turned out to be a genetic conditions called connexion 26.

Alena said: “The screening service was very thorough and we were given good information and support. It was helpful to find the reason for Finley’s hearing loss and to know it was not caused by a more serious problem.”

Impressions were taken of Finley’s ears and he was fitted with two hearing aids. Alena says he copes very well with them because he has been wearing them since he was three months old. He has speech therapy at nursery school and is progressing well.

She added: “We regularly attend the children’s hearing service at Basildon Hospital for new hearing aids and checks to make sure his hearing isn’t getting worse, which it isn’t. We are very grateful for the service.”

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