OBJECTIVE. The goal was to determine the prevalence and effects of slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss among children in elementary school.
METHODS. A cross-sectional, cluster-sample survey of 6581 children (response: 85%; grade 1: n = 3367; grade 5: n = 3214) in 89 schools in Melbourne, Australia, was performed. Slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss was defined as a low-frequency pure-tone average across 0.5, 1, and 2 kHz and/or a high-frequency pure-tone average across 3, 4, and 6 kHz of 16 to 40 dB hearing level in the better ear, with air/bone-conduction gaps of <10 dB. Parents reported children's health-related quality of life and behavior. Each child with slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, matched to 2 normally hearing children (low-frequency pure-tone average and high-frequency pure-tone average of ≤15 dB hearing level in both ears), completed standardized assessments. Whole-sample comparisons were adjusted for type of school, grade level, and gender, and matched-sample comparisons were adjusted for nonverbal IQ scores.
RESULTS. Fifty-five children (0.88%) had slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Children with and without sensorineural hearing loss scored similarly in language (mean: 97.2 vs 99.7), reading (101.1 vs 102.8), behavior (8.4 vs 7.0), and parent- and child-reported child health-related quality of life (77.6 vs 80.0 and 76.1 vs 77.0, respectively), but phonologic short-term memory was poorer (91.0 vs 102.8) in the sensorineural hearing loss group.
CONCLUSIONS. The prevalence of slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss was lower than reported in previous studies. There was no strong evidence that slight/mild bilateral sensorineural hearing loss affects adversely language, reading, behavior, or health-related quality of life in children who are otherwise healthy and of normal intelligence.