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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997 May;21(3):495-512.

Hearing, speech, language, and vestibular disorders in the fetal alcohol syndrome: a literature review.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan, USA.


Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is characterized in part by mental impairment, as well as craniofacial and ocular anomalies. These conditions are traditionally associated with childhood hearing disorders, because they all have a common embryonic origin in malformations of the first and second branchial arches, and have similar critical periods of vulnerability to toxic insult. A review of human and animal research indicates that there are four types of hearing disorders associated with FAS. These are: (1) a developmental delay in auditory maturation, (2) sensorineural hearing loss, (3) intermittent conductive hearing loss due to recurrent serous otitis media, and (4) central hearing loss. The auditory and vestibular systems share the same peripheral apparatuses (the inner ear and eighth cranial nerve) and are embryologically and structurally similar. Consequently, vestibular disorders in FAS children might be expected. The evidence for vestibular dysfunction in FAS is ambiguous, however. Like other syndromes associated with craniofacial anomalies, hearing disorders, and mental impairment, FAS is also characterized by a high prevalence of speech and language pathology. Hearing disorders are a form of sensory deprivation. If present during early childhood, they can result in permanent hearing, language, and mental impairment. Early identification and intervention to treat hearing, language, and speech disorders could therefore result in improved outcome for the FAS child. Specific recommendations are made for intervention and future research.

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