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Hearing loss in children with very low birth weight: current review of epidemiology and pathophysiology
  1. R Cristobal1,
  2. J S Oghalai1,2,3,4
  1. 1
    Bobby R Alford Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  2. 2
    The Hearing Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA
  3. 3
    Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  4. 4
    Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Dr J S Oghalai, Bobby R Alford Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, NA-102, Houston, TX 77030, USA; jso{at}


An association between birth weight <1500 g (very low birth weight (VLBW)) and hearing loss has been long recognised. As universal hearing screening programmes have become widely implemented and the survival rate of VLBW babies in modern intensive care units has increased, we have gained a substantially better understanding of the nature of this problem. However, many gaps in our knowledge base exist. This review describes recent data on hearing loss in the VLBW population and explains the current level of understanding about the physiological basis underlying the auditory deficits in these patients. Although VLBW alone may not have a severe impact on hearing, it is commonly associated with multiple other risk factors that can alter hearing in a synergistic fashion. Therefore, the risk of hearing loss is substantially higher than in the general newborn population. Also, it is important to perform a more comprehensive audiometric evaluation than standard otoacoustic emission screening for infants who are in the neonatal intensive care unit in order not to miss hearing loss due to retrocochlear pathology. Furthermore, children with VLBW are also at increased risk of experiencing progressive or delayed-onset hearing loss, and thus should continue to have serial hearing evaluations after discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Funding: NIH.

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