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Children's Health

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1-Sided Hearing Loss Lowers Language Skills

Kids With Hearing Loss in 1 Ear Have Lower Speech-Language Scores Than Siblings With Normal Hearing
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 10, 2010 -- Children with hearing loss in one ear have lower speech-language scores than siblings with normal hearing, new research shows.

A team of scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recruited 74 children from the St. Louis region between the ages of 6 and 12 with one-sided hearing loss. Each child was compared to a sibling with normal hearing.

This allowed the researchers to take into account the possible effects of environmental and genetic factors on language skills.

The children with one-sided hearing loss, called unilateral hearing loss, scored worse than their siblings on tests of language comprehension and oral expression. Children with unilateral hearing loss were also more likely than normal-hearing siblings to have received speech-language therapy. There were no differences between children with unilateral hearing loss in the right ear vs. the left ear or with different degrees of severity of hearing loss.

Unilateral Hearing Loss Affects Language Skills

Judith E. C. Lieu, MD, a Washington University professor and ear, nose and throat specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, says in a news release that previous research has suggested children with hearing loss in one ear might experience problems in school.

“Now our study has shown that, on average, children with hearing loss in one ear have poorer oral language scores than children with hearing in both ears,” she says.

The study is published online in advance of its appearance in the June print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Other factors affecting test scores were family income and maternal education level.

“This study should raise awareness that if children with hearing loss in one ear are having difficulties in speech or reading in school, their hearing may be part of the problem,” Lieu says. “Parents, educators and pediatricians shouldn’t assume that having hearing in one ear means children won’t need additional assistance.”

She suggests that studies in the future should examine whether hearing aids or amplification systems in classrooms would help children with unilateral hearing loss.

“The effect of hearing loss in one ear may be subtle,” she says. “These children may shun large group situations because the noise overwhelms them, and they have a hard time understanding speech.”

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