Newborn Hearing Screening:
Before you bring your newborn home from the hospital, your baby needs to have a hearing screening.
Although most babies can hear normally, 1 to 3 of every 1000 babies are born with some degree of hearing loss. Without newborn hearing screening, it is difficult to detect hearing loss in the first months and years of your baby’s life. About half of the children with hearing loss have no risk factors for it.
Hearing impairment is one of the common impairments in newborns. The good news is that newborn hearing screening can detect possible hearing loss in the first few days of a baby’s life. If possible, hearing loss is found, further tests will be done to confirm the results. When hearing loss is confirmed, treatment and early intervention should start as soon as possible. Early intervention refers to programs and services available to babies and their families that help with hearing loss and learning important communication skills.
The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and most countries recommend that all babies should receive a newborn hearing screening before they go home from the hospital.
Why do Newborns need Hearing Screening?
Babies learn from the time they are born. One of the ways they learn is through hearing, if they have problems with hearing and do not receive the right treatment and early intervention services, babies will have trouble with language and development. Studies show that children with hearing loss who received appropriate early intervention services by age 6 months developed good language and learning skills.
Some parents think they would be able to tell if their baby could not hear. This is not always the case. Babies may respond to noise by starting to turn their heads towards the sound. This does not mean they have normal hearing. Most babies with hearing loss can hear some sounds but still not hear enough to develop full speaking ability.
Timing is everything. Your baby will have the best chance for normal language development if any hearing loss is discovered and treatment begins by the age of 6 months and the earlier the better.
How is Newborn Hearing Screening Done?
Screening tests used are:
- Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) – This test measures how the hearing nerve responds to sound. Click or tones are played through soft earphones into the baby’s ears. Three electrodes into the baby’s head measure the hearing nerve’s response.
- Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) – This test measures sound waves produced in the inner ear. A tiny probe is placed just inside the baby’s ear canal. It measures the response (echo) when clicks or tones are played into the baby’s ears. Both tests are quick (about 5 to 10 minutes), painless and may be done while your baby is sleeping or lying still. One or both tests may be used.
If Hearing Loss is found, what can be done?
This depends on the type of hearing loss that your baby has. Every baby with hearing loss should be seen by a hearing specialist (audiologist) experienced in testing babies, a paediatrician, an ENT specialist and an ophthalmologist. Some children with hearing loss can also have problems with their vision. Many children are also seen by geneticists to determine if there is a hereditary cause of hearing loss.
A special hearing test can be performed by the audiologist who, together with the otolaryngologist and ophthalmologist, can tell you the degree of hearing loss and what can be done to help. If the hearing loss is permanent, hearing aids and speech and language services may be recommended for your baby. The outlook is good for children with hearing loss who begin an early intervention program before the age of 6 months. Research shows these children usually develop language skills on par with those of their hearing peers.
The Departments of Paediatrics, ENT and Neurology recommend that all newborns should have the hearing test done. It should ideally be done prior to discharge from the hospital, or as early as possible after discharge from the hospital.