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Turning Discovery Into Health

Children's Health: Hearing

photo of a 3 year old girl whispering into the ear of her twin sister.

Imagine the life of a child who never hears the blare of a trumpet, a mother’s soothing words, or the bark of a dog. Thirty years ago, most deaf or severely hearing-impaired children were not diagnosed until they were 2 to 3 years old, and so they didn’t get treatment when it could help the most. As a result, these children fell behind, left with lifelong limitations in career and coping skills.

Thanks to NIH-funded research, thousands of children born deaf each year are able to hear through a remarkable technology called the cochlear implant, an electronic device that mimics the function of cells in the inner ear. In 1984, the FDA approved the first cochlear implant for use in adults ages 18 and older, and in 2000, for children as young as 12 months of age. In 2009 in the United States, roughly 41,500 adults and 25,500 children have received cochlear implants.

Research has shown that children who receive a cochlear implant at a young age develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing and many can succeed in mainstream classrooms. NIH-supported scientists have found that the benefits of fitting a cochlear implant for a child’s ear far outweigh its costs. A cochlear implant costs approximately $60,000—for surgery, adjustments, and usage training. In comparison, the services, special education, and adaptation related to a child who is deaf before age 3 costs more than $1 million.

Imagine the Future…

  • Improvements in cochlear implants allow hearing-impaired or deaf children to hear sounds just like non-deaf people.
  • Environmental and genetic causes of age-associated hearing loss are known, allowing identification of those at risk and enabling them to avoid exposure.
This page last reviewed on November 30, 2011

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