Fundamentals of Hearing Loss in Infants
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), normal hearing range begins at 20 decibels for both ears. Anyone with hearing below that threshold has mild, moderate, severe, or profound hearing loss and is hard of hearing, depending on how far below the 20 decibels. The non-working part may be in one or both ears and causes an inability to hear normal talking or loud noises. Damage may be to the outer, middle, or inner ear, the latter two being the internal portions of the ear. On the other hand, deaf people have little to no hearing, so aids and implants do not typically help as they do for people who are hard of hearing.
The Link Between Hearing Loss and Birth Injuries
Although there are numerous causes of hearing loss and deafness, including hereditary and prenatal infections, birth injuries can be a cause. Oxygen loss to the fetus during labor and delivery can cause birth asphyxia. Oxygen deprivation causes damage to the brainstem location responsible for hearing, the inner ear (which contains the nerves that translate sound), resulting in deafness. Asphyxia may also occur when a mother is anemic (or baby), and her blood has too little oxygen before or during labor, or she has untreated high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. Other causes include premature separation of the placenta, long deliveries, umbilical cord compression, or infection. Overall, the effects of oxygen depletion can shut down organs and cause seizures that affect hearing.
Hearing loss also results from severe jaundice, low birth weight, infections, and head trauma. Jaundice occurs when a baby’s liver malfunctions, causing bilirubin buildup in the bloodstream. Hearing dysfunction occurs when bilirubin crosses the blood-brain barrier and pools in the auditory ventricular nucleus cells. Untreated jaundice can lead to sensorineural (nerve damage) deafness. Thus, prompt jaundice treatment is essential to avoid brain and sensory impairment.
Jaundice and low birth weight are often results of prematurity. Preterm babies (born before 37 weeks gestation) are more prone to birth injuries, including hearing loss. Due to their low birth weight and underdeveloped organs, they are more prone to complications. Hearing loss is associated with low APGAR scores, extensive ventilation, and certain antibiotics that may cause hearing problems. Some antibiotics, such as gentamicin, are ototoxic (poisonous to the ear) and can damage a fetus when the mother ingests them.
A mother’s passing an infectious disease, like rubella, measles, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, HIV, influenza, mumps, cytomegalovirus, Group B strep, or herpes, to the fetus can cause hearing damage. In fact, cytomegalovirus, one of the most common infection sources of hearing impairment, is transmissible during or after pregnancy in breast milk. Some infections turn into meningitis, a brain and spinal cord inflammation that causes neurological damage, including hearing loss.
Also, a baby squeezed through the birth canal can suffer neck, shoulders, limbs, and head injuries. Head trauma is a grave contributor to hearing damage. For example, a large baby can get stuck or face the wrong way for safe delivery. When that happens, a doctor may need to use birth assistance tools like a vacuum extractor or forceps. When such devices are misused, they can cause bone and skull fractures, as well as nerve damage, leading to auditory impairment.
Other sources of hearing impairment may be congenital, including malformations of the various parts of the ear or disease, such as otitis media. As such, a physician must be aware of their patient’s heredity factors to advise them of potential hearing loss, some of which may occur before, during, or after birth.
Ways Medical Negligence can Occur with Infant Hearing Loss
Hearing loss due to negligent medical professional conduct is most inconsolable to a parent. Doctors giving pregnant patients or those of childbearing age medications that can cause ear poisoning in fetuses are likely to be found negligent and responsible for damages due to their negligence. Also, failure to treat a pregnant woman’s preeclampsia (hypertension), diabetes, or infections that cause hearing damage to a fetus is negligence. Responsible doctors follow protocols, guidelines, and sound practices accepted in the medical community in which they practice. They must pay for their avoidable mistakes when they lapse by mismanaging pregnancies or deliveries with faulty care, such as failing to treat patient infections or mishandling birth assistance tools.
Investigating Your Baby’s Hearing Loss to Identify Malpractice
The cause of hearing loss may not be apparent and may require investigation. Since hearing loss can also be hereditary, it is essential to rule out family history as the source. Scans and audio testing may also reveal ear deformities or diseases. For example, an ECG can detect certain conditions that cause hearing loss. Hiring an audiovestibular professional may help pinpoint the hearing loss source. Most often, however, tracing the source takes time and patience to review the medical records of the mother and baby and interview immediate family and ancestors about hearing issues.
All newborns undergo hearing loss screening through auditory brainstem response tests to check the auditory nerve functioning and the brain’s reception of sound waves. Moreover, an otoacoustic emissions test checks the ear canal for sound receptivity. Once hearing loss is suspected, an audiologist tests the baby further with other hearing tests that check responsiveness to sounds by the baby’s reactions.
Available Treatments for Hearing Loss in Children
Determining hearing loss and the cause is critical for treatment. A baby with hearing problems may need expensive treatment, such as surgery to fix structural issues with the ear. Implants may also help restore hearing. A cochlear implant is surgically placed inside the ear while a corresponding part rests behind the ear. Through this electronic device, a baby can receive sounds from the outside that transmit to the inside of the ear, though the sound is incomplete. An audiologist and speech therapist help a baby learn to hear through the implant and speak clearly to communicate with others.
Another option is to place ear tubes inside the eardrum to prevent fluid buildup and resulting ear infections, inflammation, and hearing loss. Frequent ear infections and swelling can cause hearing loss. To prevent that, doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat infections and over-the-counter medications to reduce swelling. Additionally, hearing aids help a child who is hard of hearing by amplifying sound when hearing loss is not severe.
Recoverable Damages for Babies with Hearing Loss from Childbirth
A deaf or partially deaf baby has difficulty developing speech and language skills and may fall behind their peers in cognitive, intellectual, and social development. They may need occupational and speech therapy and special education, which can be costly. Hearing specialists can teach a child American Sign Language to assist them in communicating when other avenues are unavailable. The therapeutic professional, special needs, and ongoing treatment of a deaf or hard-of-hearing child are expensive. However, such costs are included in a compensatory award in a birth injury and medical malpractice case. A child may receive financial coverage for medical treatment and therapeutic needs for as long as is needed. A medical malpractice award also covers economic losses for adaptive and medical devices that a child may need, loss of current and future income, and noneconomic losses of pain and suffering and diminishment in quality of life.
Suspect Malpractice Caused Your Baby’s Hearing Loss in NJ? Contact Us
When medical malpractice before, during, or after childbirth may have caused your baby’s hearing loss, you are best advised to contact our experienced New Jersey birth injury attorneys, who can investigate to confirm the source of the loss, establish negligence as the cause of damages, calculate the damages, and advocate for the full costs and compensatory award that your child is entitled to. Our birth injury lawyers deal with insurers and courts, so you are not overwhelmed and taken advantage of by the ones who caused your child’s injury or those who represent them. Contact us anytime at 866-708-8617 to discuss your infant hearing loss case and learn more about how our legal team can help you pursue a medical malpractice claim. We represent babies, children, and adolescents who experience injuries and complications due to negligent medical care throughout New Jersey. Call for a free consultation today.