Childhood Hearing Loss Often Missed by Parents


By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

Childhood hearing loss is often missed by parents. This is the opinion of Dr Rekha Balachandran Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon, when Ipoh Echo interviewed her at her clinic in Pantai Hospital, Ipoh.

“In many western countries, babies are screened almost as soon as they are born. Through a test known as OAE or otoacoustic emission, signals are sent to the baby’s cochlea and the responses measured. Any hearing loss detected can then be further analysed and a treatment plan drawn up,” said Dr Rekha who has recently started her own private practice after eight years in the General Hospital in Ipoh.

In Malaysia, because hearing loss in babies is not automatically tested, Dr Rekha advises parents with newborns to watch for the following signs in their babies. A newborn should startle at sudden loud noises; recognise mother’s or main carer’s voice between 4-5 months and between 10-12 months should be babbling or mimicking sounds. If any of these are absent, it’s time to pay a visit to the ENT specialist. Often, mild hearing loss is missed until the child attends school when symptoms may appear as a lack of concentration or manifesting behavioural problems.

Hearing loss may also occur when children develop what is commonly known as ‘Glue Ear’ when mucus from the nasal passages accumulates in the ear. Solutions for treating hearing problems can range from medication, to minor surgery, to cochlear implants for those with total hearing loss or to simply wearing proper hearing aids.

Hearing loss in children if left undiagnosed and untreated, can take its toll on the child, the family and the community. “A child is withdrawn when hearing is impaired and usually finds it difficult to make friends. This will usually affect the child’s ability to concentrate in school, affecting his/her development and ability to function. Sometimes a hearing aid will resolve the problem but it is amazing that some parents will turn down that option for fear of the embarrassment for the child and themselves. What they fail to realise is that the long-term impact of hearing loss for the child goes beyond simple embarrassment or loss of face.”

For care of the ear and to prevent hearing loss, Dr Rekha recommends that we do not clean our ears with instruments, ear candling or even ear buds. “The outer part of the ear may be wiped with tissues or a towel but the ear is essentially self-cleaning and we should not tamper with it. If ears appear blocked, then see a specialist who may sometimes flush them out for you but at the same time, they can also detect if there is a more serious underlying problem.”

The nose, however, is another issue altogether. Regular cleaning of the nasal passages with saline solution is a great idea according to Dr Rekha. This can be self-administered at home with either a kit obtainable from pharmacies or using the Yogic technique of nasal flushing using what is known as a ‘neti pot’. This can help to reduce nasal congestion and clear away the germs around the nasal passages especially when one has a cold or flu.

As for the fear of the Big C or nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) which is one of the more prevalent cancers affecting, in particular, the Chinese population, Dr Rekha has this advice to give, “If you notice a swelling on your neck, a persistent nose block or nosebleed, an ear block or buzzing in one ear or blurring of the eyesight, then go straight to an ENT specialist. NPC can be diagnosed through a scope and if caught in stage 1, has an almost 95 per cent five-year survival rate. So don’t wait.”

Dr Rekha Balachandran may be reached at Pantai Hospital, 5th floor Outpatient Centre Suite 509. Clinic: 05 540 5408/5409; mobile: 012 317 2301; website:

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