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Clinical Practice for Children with Mild Bilateral and Unilateral Hearing Loss

Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth M.1,2; Durieux-Smith, Andrée1,2; Whittingham, JoAnne2

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e3181cdb2b9
Research Articles
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Objective: Historically, children with mild bilateral and unilateral hearing loss have been reported to experience difficulties related to language and academic functioning. In the context of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening, there is an increasing focus on determining optimal clinical interventions for this population of children. The objectives of this study were to determine the prevalence of mild bilateral or unilateral hearing loss identified in a clinical population from 1990 to 2006 and to document clinical practices related to recommendations and uptake of amplification.

Design: This population-based study consisted of a detailed retrospective chart review of all children identified with mild bilateral or unilateral hearing loss in a Canadian pediatric center between 1990 and 2006. Hearing loss and patient characteristics were extracted to describe the clinical population. Amplification recommendations and uptake of amplification were documented. Clinical decisions regarding amplification practices were explored as a function of age of identification and severity of hearing loss.

Results: A total of 670 children were identified with permanent hearing loss during the 16-yr study period, of which 291 were presented with a mild bilateral or unilateral hearing loss. Detailed reviews of the 255 available medical charts showed that at diagnosis, 178 children presented with mild bilateral, 31 with mild bilateral high frequency, and 46 with unilateral hearing loss. Eighty percent of children had been referred through conventional medical processes before the implementation of universal hearing screening and 20% had been exposed to screening. The average age of identification for the entire group was 54.2 mos (interquartile range, 30.1 to 76.9 mos). Amplification was prescribed for 91.4% of children but there was considerable delay from confirmation of hearing loss to amplification for both children identified with and without screening. Overall, 54.1% received an initial recommendation for amplification and a further 37.3% received a recommendation more than 3 mos after hearing loss confirmation. Practice patterns varied according to category of hearing loss with 60.1% of children with mild bilateral hearing loss receiving an initial recommendation compared with 26.1% of those with unilateral hearing loss. Clinical decision making relative to amplification needs was also changed during the course of audiologic care. The decision to amplify was significantly related to age at identification and degree of hearing loss in the mild bilateral group but not in the unilateral group. Although, more than 90% of children received a recommendation for amplification, chart documentation revealed that less than two thirds of children consistently used their amplification devices. Use of amplification did not vary among children with mild bilateral, mild bilateral high frequency, and unilateral hearing loss.

Conclusions: This research suggests that there is considerable uncertainty related to clinical recommendations of intervention for this population of children. The impact of parental indecision regarding the benefits of amplification is unknown. Further studies are required to document the potential benefits and factors affecting amplification recommendations and use in the current practice environment where children with mild bilateral or unilateral hearing loss are identified early through newborn hearing screening.

This study examined the prevalence of and practices related to mild bilateral/unilateral hearing loss in a clinical population identified between 1990 and 2006. More than 40% of the 670 children identified with a permanent hearing loss during the 16-year period presented with a mild bilateral/unilateral impairment at diagnosis. Although more than 90% of children were eventually prescribed amplification, there was a considerable gap between confirmation of hearing loss and amplification recommendations, suggesting uncertainty concerning the appropriate management of these children. Less than two thirds of children fit with amplification used their devices on a consistent basis.

1Audiology/Speech-Language Pathology Program, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa; and 2Auditory Research Lab, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario.

Funding for the Auditory Research Laboratory at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute is acknowledged from the Masonic Foundation of Ontario.

This study was supported by a research grant from the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa.

E. M. Fitzpatrick holds a Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator award.

Address for correspondence: Elizabeth M. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., 451 Smyth Road (Room 3071), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 8M5, Canada. E-mail: elizabeth.fitzpatrick@uottawa.ca.

Received August 16, 2009; Accepted November 9, 2009.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.