Health Scan: 'Born deaf' need not mean 'always deaf'

In other news, El Salvador's Foreign Minister visits Yad Sarah as a model for a medical equipment lending organization.

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June 9, 2007 22:24
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Some children are born with "temporary deafness" and do not need cochlear implants - which are included in Israel's basket of health services - according to University of Haifa researchers. Studies conducted in the department of communication disorders found that some children who are born deaf "recover" and do not require surgical intervention. To date, most babies born deaf are referred for a cochlear implant. "Many parents will say to me: 'My child hears; if I call him, he responds.' Nobody listens to them because diagnostic medical equipment didn't register any hearing. It seems that these parents are smarter than our equipment," said neurophysiologist and audiologist Prof. Joseph Attias. There are two causes of congenital deafness: The first is the lack of hair cells - receptors in the inner ear that convert sounds into pulses that activate the auditory nerve. The second is a malfunction of the nerves. A child may be born with what appears to be a normal inner ear, but the hair cells do not "communicate" with the auditory nerves. To date, doctors have recommended the same treatment for all children born deaf. Once a child has been diagnosed as deaf, doctors recommend a cochlear implant, a surgically-implanted electronic device that directly stimulates the auditory nerve. Attias stresses that a cochlear implant is an excellent treatment for children with congenital deafness. However, it appears that some children are born with "temporary deafness" - a condition previously unidentified. This discovery, like many other important discoveries, was made by chance. A child who was born with malfunctioning hair cells and was scheduled for a cochlear implant was referred to Attias for a pre-surgical evaluation. The evaluation found that the child's brain and auditory nerves exhibited beginning responses to sound stimuli, so the surgery was postponed. Follow-up visits showed increasing function of the hair cells, and eventually the child reached a state of normal hearing. Attias, who is part of a cochlear implant team at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva, looked into the department archives and found other such cases. "Because these children go through a series of tests and evaluations, a process that often takes months, there are some who were initially referred for the procedure but didn't have it done. Sometimes parents decide not to do the surgery; sometimes they do it elsewhere. I called parents and found another seven children who were diagnosed as deaf, did not have the procedure done, and began to hear," he said. He then found another five children who had been referred to him for pre-operative testing. At the end of his clinical research, he identified a "window of opportunity" of 17 months during which deaf children may begin to hear. "A child whose deafness is caused by a malfunctioning connection between hair cells and the auditory nerve should not have a cochlear implant in the first 17 months. Research shows that at least some of these children undergo the procedure for nothing," Atias explained. He added that some of these children only develop partial hearing, which can be augmented with external hearing aids. He is now researching "temporary deafness" among young children, looking for a way to identify those who will recover. YAD SARAH MODELS FOR EL SALVADOR El Salvador's Foreign Minister Francisco Lionnaise visited Yad Sarah's Jerusalem headquarters recently to formalize an agreement in which the voluntary organization will help open El Salvador's first medical equipment lending station. The project, initiated by El Salvador's Ambassador Suzy Hassenson and to be modelled after Yad Sarah's more than 100 branches, is being financed by local donations. A Yad Sarah representative went to the South American country twice to meet with local health and social welfare officials and study the country's needs.


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