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What is Congenital Deafness?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
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  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Congenital deafness is a lack of hearing present at birth. The term does not imply a particular source of the deafness, and the cause is not limited to genetic factors. Treatment for congenital deafness varies depending on the cause of the deafness and on the strategy adopted by the parents of the deaf child. Deafness is a complex social issue as well as a physical trait, and both these issues often play into treatment of congenital deafness.

Some people who are born deaf are deaf because of a malformation of the ear. For instance, Mondini dysplasia is a deformation of the cochlea that can cause congenital deafness. Maternal drug or alcohol use, infections of the uterus, or lack of oxygen can also cause deafness in infants. In these cases, the parents of the deaf child may not have had any deaf relatives or be deaf themselves.

Many children who are born deaf inherit the condition from their parents. There are a variety of conditions that are inheritable and cause deafness, and hearing loss may be present in one or both parents. Both recessive and dominant genes can cause deafness, and it is possible that the same set of parents may produce both hearing and deaf children.

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Treatment for congenital deafness is usually more successful when it starts early in the child's life. Cochlear implants are one possibility for treating deafness in infants, but these are not available to people in many parts of the world, nor are they without complications. Congenitally deaf children may also be taught sign language from an early age, which itself may equip them for life in a hearing world. Different cultures often have different programs for deaf children, which may include special schooling and medical programs.

Some deaf parents believe that having children who are born congenitally deaf is preferable to having hearing children. These parents may believe themselves to be better equipped to raise a deaf child than a hearing one, although hearing children can also learn sign language. Some families include many generations of deaf members, and for these families, raising deaf children may not be considered a medical problem at all. Even so, the question of whether or not parents have a right to select deaf embryos or refuse to seek treatment for their children is a highly contentious ethical issue with valid points made by both sides.

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