Background: To establish the prevalence of hearing deficit in children with Down syndrome (DS) in Hong Kong as measured by brainstem auditory evoked potentials (BAEP). The secondary objective is to examine the agreement between BAEP and clinical questioning in detecting hearing deficit in DS.
Methods: Consecutive DS patients attending the Down's Clinic in a regional pediatric referral center were recruited into this cross-sectional study. BAEP data performed within 12 months were retrieved. The care-taker was interviewed with a structured questionnaire to detect any symptom of hearing impairment. BAEP findings and clinical questionings were compared in an agreement analysis using quadratic weighted kappa statistics.
Results: Fifty DS patients (35 male, 15 female, mean age 11.70 years ± 5.74 standard deviation) were recruited. Eighteen patients (36.0%) were identified having hearing deficit by BAEP. Among patients with hearing impairment, 13 patients (72.2%) had a conductive deficit, and most have mild to moderate hearing loss. Five patients (27.8%) had sensorineural deficit and most have moderate to severe degree. Eight (44.4%) had bilateral hearing deficit. Care-takers of 13 patients (26.0%) reported symptoms of hearing impairment, with 9 (69.2%) having mild symptoms, 3 (23.1%) had moderate symptoms and 1 (7.7%) had severe symptoms. The weighted kappa was 0.045 (95.0% confidence interval - 0.138-0.229), indicating very poor strength of agreement between BAEP and clinical questioning. For patients with conductive hearing impairment, only 1 patients (7.7%) recalled history of otitis media.
Conclusions: The estimated point prevalence of hearing impairment in Chinese DS children in Hong Kong is 36%. Our finding of poor strength of agreement between objective testing and symptom questioning reflects significant underestimation of hearing impairment by history taking alone. In view of the high prevalence and low parental awareness, continuous surveillance of hearing is mandatory for DS patients throughout childhood and adolescence.