DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Our 2-month-old son was just diagnosed with total deafness. Initially there was a 50 percent hearing loss in one ear, but after two months we were told he cannot hear at all. What could cause hearing loss in an infant? Is there any hope, such as promising clinical trials, that he may someday hear?
ANSWER: Finding out a child is deaf can be very difficult for families, and deciding what to do can be tough. Although there is no way to restore natural hearing, promising treatment options may help a child to hear.
A variety of causes can lead to hearing loss in infants. Babies born prematurely are at a higher risk for hearing loss than other infants. Some infections during pregnancy may lead to hearing problems in babies. For unknown reasons, the structure of the ear may not develop normally early in pregnancy. Also, many genes are necessary for normal hearing, and many abnormalities can result in hearing loss. Although testing can identify some causes of hearing loss, determining why an individual child has hearing loss is not always possible.
Right now, there are few clinical trials designed to treat or cure newborn hearing loss. One trial that is currently ongoing uses stem cells in an effort to remedy hearing loss. But the results of that study are only preliminary, and the treatment is not readily available at this time.