Newborn hearing screening:
Before you bring your newborn home from the hospital, your baby will need to undergo hearing screening.
Although most babies can hear normally, 1 to 3 babies in 1,000 are born with some degree of hearing loss. Without newborn hearing screening, it will be difficult to detect hearing loss in your baby’s first months and years of life. About half of children with hearing loss have no risk factors for it.
Hearing impairment is one of the most common impairments in newborns. The good news is that newborn hearing screening can detect possible hearing loss in a baby’s first few days. If possible, hearing loss will be diagnosed and further tests will be done to confirm the results. If hearing loss is confirmed, treatment and early intervention should begin as soon as possible. Early intervention refers to programs and services available to babies and their families that help with hearing loss and learn key communication skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and most countries recommend that all babies should have newborn hearing screening before leaving the hospital.
Why do newborns need hearing screening?
Babies learn from birth. One of the ways they learn is by listening. If they have hearing problems and don’t get the right treatment and early intervention, babies will have language and developmental difficulties. Studies show that children with hearing loss who received adequate early intervention at 6 months of age developed good language and learning skills.
Some parents think they might know if their baby couldn’t hear. This is not always the case. Babies can respond to sound by starting to turn their head in the direction of the sound. This does not mean that they have normal hearing. Most babies with hearing loss can hear some sounds, but still not enough to develop full ability to speak.
Timing is everything. Your baby has the best chance of normal speech development if hearing loss is diagnosed and treatment begins at 6 months of age. The sooner the better.
How does a newborn hearing screening work?
The following screening tests are used:
- Automated Auditory Brainstem Reaction (AABR) – This test measures how the auditory nerve reacts to sound. Clicks or tones are played into the baby’s ears through soft earphones. Three electrodes in the baby’s head measure the response of the auditory nerve.
- Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) – This test measures sound waves that are generated in the inner ear. A tiny probe is placed right in the baby’s ear canal. It measures the response (echo) when clicks or sounds are played in the baby’s ears. Both tests are quick (about 5 to 10 minutes), painless, and can be done while your baby is sleeping or lying still. Either or both tests can be used.
What can be done if hearing loss is diagnosed?
It depends on the type of hearing loss your baby has. Any baby with hearing loss should be examined by a hearing care professional (audiologist) experienced in examining babies, a pediatrician, an ENT doctor, and an ophthalmologist. Some children with hearing loss may also have problems with their eyesight. Many children are also examined by geneticists to determine if there is an inherited cause of hearing loss.
A special hearing test can be performed by the audiologist who, together with the ENT doctor and ophthalmologist, can tell you the degree of hearing loss and possible remedial measures. If the hearing loss is permanent, hearing aids and voice and voice services may be recommended for your baby. The outlook is good for children with hearing loss who start an early intervention program before 6 months of age. Research shows that these children tend to develop language skills that match those of their hearing peers.
The Clinics for Pediatrics, ENT and Neurology recommend the hearing test for all newborns. It should ideally be done before discharge from the hospital or as early as possible after discharge from the hospital.
Dr. Mahesh Balsekar | Senior Consultant – Pediatrics | SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai
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