by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Strange as it may seem, some children are born deaf, but “regain” their hearing a few months later without medical intervention according to Dr. Joseph Attias at the University of Haifa in Israel.
Amir Gilat, in his report “Some children are born with ‘temporary deafness’ and do not require cochlear implant,” explains:
There are two causes of congenital deafness among children. One is the lack of hair cells that activate the auditory nerve. The second cause is a malfunction of the nerve itself. A child may be born with what appears to be a normal inner ear, but the hair cells do not “communicate” with the auditory nerve and the child cannot hear.
Typically, doctors recommend that deaf children receive a cochlear implant as soon as possible so language develops normally. However, for those children with this kind of “temporary deafness” a cochlear implant is totally unnecessary as their hearing may return to normal over a period of 17 months or so.
According to Dr. Attias:
Because children typically go through a series of tests and evaluations by different doctors, a process that often takes months, there are cases of children who were initially referred for a cochlear implant who didn’t have it done because their hearing comes back.
For example, Dr Attias said:
I called parents and found seven cases of children who were diagnosed as deaf, did not have a cochlear implant, and began to hear.
Dr. Attias then found five more children who had been referred to him for pre-operative testing who had begun to hear in the meantime. By the end of his clinical research, he had identified a “window of opportunity” of 17 months during which deaf children may begin to hear.
Dr. Attias cautions:
A child whose deafness is caused by a malfunctioning connection between hair cells and the auditory nerve should nothave a cochlear implant in the first 17 months of life. Research results show the possibility that at least some of these children undergo the procedure for nothing.
Since a cochlear implant does not give normal hearing, such children would actually end up with worse hearing than if they had not received a cochlear implant. Therefore, the trend to implant children as young as 8 months or so would not give enough time to evaluate whether their hearing might “come back” on its own.
Interestingly enough, some children only develop partial hearing rather than normal hearing. Since they are hard of hearing, these children can be fitted with hearing aids rather than having a cochlear implant. Gilat concludes, “Dr. Attias is now researching ‘temporary deafness’ among young children, looking to find a way to identify those who will recover and those who will not.”
As a result of this research, if you have a child that is diagnosed as deaf at birth, you might want to have hearing testing done for a number of months to see whether any hearing is showing up before you opt for a cochlear implant for your child.
Reference: Eurekalert May 16, 2007 http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-05/uoh-sca051607.php.