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Johns Hopkins Health - Hearing Clearly

Winter 2011
Issue No. 11

Hearing Clearly

Date: January 20, 2011

Getting cochlear implants early helps children catch up in language skill development

Your child has major hearing trouble or loss of hearing, cochlear implants can make a significant difference in his ability to develop language skills. And the earlier he receives those implants, the better, Johns Hopkins researchers say. Studies there have shown that children who receive implants before 18 months of age have the best chance of catching up with their peers in language skills before reaching school age.

Each year those implants are delayed can mean putting your child one more year behind in language development. Howard Francis, M.D., a Johns Hopkins associate professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, says the benefits of cochlear implants are apparent immediately upon activation as children gain access to sound, although it can take six months to a year for them to demonstrate the acquisition of verbal language.

“The surgery in general is well-tolerated,” he says, and most children recover from the two-hour outpatient procedure within a couple of days. It’s not a magic bullet, however, for correcting hearing loss. “It’s not just the child; it’s also the environment,” Francis adds, citing the extensive rehabilitation program at Johns Hopkins that extends beyond surgery. “Children need a support system and engagement. To help them catch up, it takes time and effort on the part of parents, rehabilitation therapists, teachers and schools.”

Francis says not all children are good candidates for the surgery, as some may have undeveloped inner ears, making implants impossible, or they may not be medically stable enough to undergo surgery.

But for some, two implants may be better than one.

“Traditionally, we only implanted one ear,” Francis says, “but recent data suggest that there are significant benefits to having implants in both ears.” Those benefits include the ability to identify where sounds are coming from as well as the ability to hear better in noisy situations, such as in the classroom or on the street.

3 Signs of Hearing Loss
Although all infants should have their hearing screened as soon as possible after birth, some babies and toddlers develop hearing loss later. In those instances, it is difficult for parents to pick up problems in children who are nonverbal. Here are some clues:

  • Your child doesn’t respond to environmental sounds such as clapping or a door slamming.
  • Infant babbling doesn’t transition to purposeful words like “Mama” or “Dada.”
  • Language skills regress or change.

Watch and listen to hearing expert John Niparko, M.D., explain hearing loss and treatment options. View “Can You Hear Me?” at

For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872 or visit