Can Poor Nutrition During Early Childhood Contribute to Hearing Loss?

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study on hearing problems and a child’s nutritional status. They found that there is a link between hearing loss and poor nutrition during a child’s early years. Their study revealed that undernourished preschool children have double the risk of developing hearing loss when they reach adulthood, compared to well-nourished children.

The Study

Hearing loss is one of the top causes of disability worldwide. The individuals who come from low, as well as middle-income countries, are the ones most affected by this health problem. In Southeast Asia, hearing impairment affects 14% to as high as 28% of the population. This prevalence is also highest among children and young adults.

The hearing impairment study was conducted in Nepal from 2006 to 2008. It involved over 2,200 young adults. Of note, the participants of the new study were also participants of an older nutrition trial study that was conducted from 1989 to 1991. This older study assessed the nutritional status of the participants over a period of time.

Through auditory tests, the new study tested the sense of hearing of these young adults. The researchers found that those chronically undernourished young adults who were stunted during their childhood are twice likely to have signs of hearing loss.

What’s the Link?

Early childhood is a critical developmental stage of a child’s auditory and hearing functions. Chronic undernourishment, the researchers suspect, affects the development of the inner ear. Underdevelopment of the inner ear, in turn, affects auditory functioning and contributes to hearing loss.

Additionally, malnutrition also weakens the immune system. It makes the child even more susceptible to recurrent ear infections. Unfortunately, a recurrent ear infection is one of the contributing factors of hearing problems.

Addressing the Issue

There is a link between hearing loss and poor nutrition during early childhood. But it should be noted though that the child’s nutritional status is a risk factor that can be modified and adjusted. Because it is a modifiable risk factor, nutritional intervention should be implemented especially during early childhood to prevent hearing loss later on in life.