Hearing loss affects 21% of infants after heart surgery

Children who survive cardiac surgery as infants have a 20-fold risk of hearing loss when compared to peers without heart defects, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Researchers studied 4-year-olds who had undergone surgery for congenital heart disease (CHD) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to assess its effect on neurodevelopmental outcomes in early childhood. Of the 348 preschoolers evaluated, 21.6 percent were found to have hearing loss—most commonly conductive hearing loss (12.4 percent), followed by sensorineural hearing loss (6.9 percent) and indeterminate hearing loss (2.3 percent).

The overall rate of hearing loss was about 20 times higher than that of the general population, reported senior study author Nancy B. Burnham, RN, MSN, CRNP, and colleagues.

“Children born with life-threatening heart defects require a great deal of sophisticated care before and after surgery,” Burnham, a nurse practitioner in CHOP’s division of cardiothoracic surgery, said in a press release. “This study reminds healthcare providers not to overlook hearing evaluations, because early detection and intervention can reduce later problems in neurodevelopment.”

The researchers suggested children who undergo cardiac surgery receive hearing evaluations by the time they are 24 to 30 months old to increase the odds of timely intervention. Only 5.2 percent of the study population had screened positive for hearing loss before the researchers evaluated them at age 4.

Younger gestational age, genetic anomalies and longer postoperative length of stay were all identified as risk factors associated with hearing loss. The authors also said high-frequency noises in intensive care units and exposure to medications that may damage hearing could have played a factor in the higher prevalence of hearing loss tied to CHD, but they didn’t specifically examine those factors.

Burnham said larger, multi-center studies are needed to confirm the findings and investigate whether treatment factors may impact hearing loss.