As Tamil Nadu does not have mandatory screening under Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS), experts say that it should be made compulsory as in the neighbouring State Kerala.
ENT specialists say that hearing loss is termed as invisible disability because the symptoms are not very prominent and unaddressed hearing loss poses a challenge because of restricted language development, lack of communication, cognition, and limiting access to education, employment, and social interactions. Thus, the early identification of hearing loss and ear diseases is necessary to manage it effectively, at an early stage.
Dr Sanjeev Mohanty, senior consultant and head of Institute of ENT, Head and Neck Surgery, MGM Healthcare, said that majority cases of hearing loss are diagnosed late. "Major reasons for such delay are unavailability of newborn screening program and low awareness. The Universal Newborn Hearing Screening program can help in early diagnosis which in turn will lead to early treatment. Delay ins diagnosing hearing impairment can cost children up to 24 months of precious time of cognitive development. In contrast, with UNHS corrective measures through early intervention can be sought for kids as young as six months old. Such a program will also help in identifying the most suitable intervention for such children," he said.
He added that with technological advancements such as cochlear implants, today children even under the age of 2 years may benefit and have an opportunity of leading a normal, fruitful life.
ENT consultants say that if the UNHS is made mandatory in Tamil Nadu, it will help many children who have hearing issues. "Majority of the hearing loss cases among children are detected late and the corrections that could in the primary stage among newborns are brought to the hospital after the age of 5 years. This affects the communication abilities and cognitive developments that the child experiences as he grows up," said Dr S Muthuchitra, ENT specialist at Stanley Medical College and Hospital.
She added that cochlear implants at the earliest stage can help prevent hearing loss and primary developments of the child and UNHS can be a major step towards the same.