• Vol. 40 No. 11, 493–498
  • 15 October 2011

High Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Down Syndrome at First Year of Life



Introduction: Infants with Down syndrome (DS) are at higher risk of hearing loss (HL). Normal hearing at one year of age plays an important part in language development. An audit was conducted to determine the impact of the newborn hearing screening program on the incidence, type and timing of diagnosis of HL during first year of life.

Materials and Methods: Infants with DS were scheduled for Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) within 4 weeks of life. If they passed, they had a high-risk screen at 3 to 6 months. They were referred to the otolaryngology department if they did not pass the UNHS or the high-risk screen. Information was obtained from the computerised data tracking system and case notes. Infants born from April 2002 to January 2005 and referred to the DS clinic of our hospital were analysed.

Results: Thirty-seven (82.2%) of 45 infants underwent UNHS, of which 12 (32.4%) infants did not pass. Of remaining 33 infants, 27 had high-risk screen done of which 14 (51.8%) did not pass. Twenty-eight infants were referred to the ear, nose, throat (ENT) clinic: 12 from UNHS, 14 from high-risk screens and 2 from the DS clinic. Eleven (39.2%) defaulted follow-up. Fourteen (82.3%) of 17 infants who attended the ENT Clinic had HL. Twelve (85.7%) were conductive, and 2 (14.2%) mixed. Nine (64.2%) had mild-moderate HL and 3 (21%) had severe HL. The mean age of diagnosis was 6.6±3.3 months. All were treated medically, plus surgically if indicated. By 12 months of age, the hearing had normalised in 4 (28.6%) infants and remained the same in 3 (21.4%). Five (35.7%) defaulted follow-up. Thirty-five out of 45 (77.8%) underwent complete hearing screen in the first year of life (UNHS & High-risk screen). Six out of 45 (13.3%) had incomplete screening. Fourteen out of 41 (34.1%) had HL of varying degrees. Four out of 45 (8.8%) did not have any audiological assessment in first year of life.

Conclusion: The incidence of HL in the first year of life was high (34.1%). Eighty-five percent were conductive with 64.2% in mild-moderate range. One third of infants hearing normalized after treatment, one third remained unaltered and one third of infants did not attend follow-up. An aggressive approach involving early screening after birth and continued surveillance and early referral to appropriate agencies are essential for establishing timely diagnosis and treatment. Measures to reduce the high default rate during long-term follow-up are needed. Parent education and integrated multidisciplinary follow-up clinic may be useful.

Down syndrome (DS) is the most commonly occurring genetic abnormality involving approximately 1 in 700 births. The increasing life expectancy of individuals with DS has revealed the presence of several unexpected pathological processes. Otorhinolaryngological disorders hold an important place amongst them because of their high incidence and severity. These frequently cause an increase in DS-related handicap. Studies have shown that even mild hearing loss (HL) of less than 15dBHL can adversely impact speech perception, learning, cognition and speech development. This is particularly important in DS where expressive language skills lag behind cognitive abilities. Early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss has the potential to improve language abilities that may indirectly affect educational vocational costs and may increase lifetime productivity.

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