Diagnosing Deafness by Perspiration

“The most difficult form of deafness to diagnose has been deafness in infants,” a March 1954 article in Life magazine declared. So how could physicians or audiologists determine hearing loss in children too young to respond to standard audiometric tests or make use of picture screening tests that require an understanding of primary words? If parents wait until their child is older, the child misses out learning to speak: “This could hamper him for life since the normal and best years for speech development are between 2 and 6.”

According to the article, as a result of pioneering research at John Hopkins University and twenty five clinics, it is possible to diagnose hearing loss in infants as young as two months—by electrically measuring the amount of perspiration!

“The examination is based on the fact that the nervous system of any person at any age reacts spontaneously to a sudden stimulus, such as noise, by making the skin sweat. By electrically measuring the amount of perspiration produced by a baby when sounds are projected to him through earphones, scientists can tell whether the baby has heard the sound, whether he can detect various magnitudes and whether his lack of response is due to ear damage or another cause, such as mental retardation.”

Once hearing loss is diagnosed, babies can then be fitted for hearing aids. Combined with lip-reading, the hearing aids would thus enable children to “attend regular schools instead of special ones for the deaf and helps all of them learn…how to talk and understand others.”

Image above: A three year old listening to loud tones during a hearing test at the Children’s Medical Center in Boston, MA, February 1954. Photo by Nina Leen for Life magazine.

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