Every year, thousands of children are born with Down Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. While most people are familiar with Down Syndrome and its general characteristics, oft-overlooked areas of concern are hearing and vision loss. If treatment and therapies to alleviate or compensate for hearing or vision loss are neglected, children with Down Syndrome face significant challenges as they grow older.
Hearing Loss in Down Syndrome
A majority of individuals with Down Syndrome face hearing difficulties. Symptoms can range from mild or severe, and even from being a temporary irritant to a serious and long-term problem.
Children with Down Syndrome are more prone to ear infections due to anatomical differences. Fluid often builds up in the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum), causing discomfort. If the fluid remains, ear wax can build up and, more seriously, the child can develop an ear infection, which causes a myriad of symptoms like ear pain, difficulty sleeping, loss of balance, and fever. Wax and fluid buildup, as well as chronic sinus infections, can lead to conductive hearing loss, which is when sounds are blocked from passing into the inner ear. Fortunately, this type of hearing loss is usually temporary resolves with treatment.
If a child has persistent ear infections that go untreated, she is likely to develop what is called sensorineural hearing loss. This is when there is permanent damage to the delicate tissues and nerves within the inner ear. Children with Down Syndrome are sometimes born with sensorineural hearing loss.
While damage to the inner ear is a common trait in individuals with Down Syndrome, other physiological problems like small ear canals, excess wax production, and chronic sinus infections not only contribute to hearing loss but also makes examinations and diagnoses difficult for health professionals.
Vision Loss in Down Syndrome
Vision is another area of concern for individuals with Down Syndrome, which presents physiological characteristics that affect the anatomy of the eye, such as an upward slanting of the eyelids and folding of the skin between the eye and the nose.
Two common vision problems, near- and farsightedness, are far more prevalent in individuals with Down Syndrome than in the rest of the population. These individuals often struggle to change the focus power of the eye, causing blurred vision. The problem, however, is easily solved with prescription glasses.
Another common problem is a condition called Strabismus. Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes that gives the appearance of being cross-eyed. Early treatment, which can range from wearing glasses to undergoing surgery, is crucial in order to prevent more serious complications like acute loss of vision, loss of depth perception, or developing a lazy eye.
A more severe problem for children with Down Syndrome is the development of early-age congenital cataracts. Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become clouded, and in children, this affects how the brain processes images and results in lifelong poor vision.
It is important for parents, caregivers, and health professionals to keep a watchful eye on their children with Down Syndrome and follow up with regular vision and hearing examinations. Early detection and treatment of hearing and vision issues not only fosters proper development and growth of the hearing and visual organs but will prevent more serious problems from developing.