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Did My Baby Have a Hearing Test?

More than three million American children have hearing loss. An estimated 1.3 million of these children are under three years of age. Statistics show that 5-7 newborns, out of every 1,000 born, have a hearing loss. That makes hearing loss the number one birth defect. You, the parents and grandparents, are usually the first to discover hearing loss in your babies, because you spend the most time with them. If, at any time, you suspect your baby has a hearing loss, discuss it with your doctor and your audiologist.

Hearing loss may be temporary, caused by blockage from debris such as earwax or from middle ear infections. Many infants with temporary hearing loss can have their hearing corrected through medical treatment. However, some children have sensorineural hearing loss (often called nerve deafness), which is permanent. Most of these children have some usable hearing, and children as young as three months of age can be fitted with hearing aids. A child with total hearing loss or almost complete hearing loss might have a hearing instrument implanted in their inner ear. This is called a cochlear implant.

No disability affects a child's ability to communicate with the world as severely as does hearing impairment. Even mild hearing loss, left untreated, causes learning disabilities and psychological and social delays. Immediate diagnosis and intervention are important for the intellectual and emotional development of a child born with hearing loss. Early diagnosis, early fitting of amplification devices such as hearing aids, and an early start on special education programs can help maximize the child's remaining hearing. This means your child will get a head start on speech and language development.

Do All Babies Get Screened?

There has been a large push across the USA for "universal newborn hearing screening" for all babies - not just high-risk babies. Although most states do have a universal newborn hearing-screening program in place, unfortunately, some don't. Where it is not state mandated, you may find some hospitals choosing to institute their own programs for screening all newborn babies before they leave the hospital or very shortly thereafter. Often the baby is taken to a special testing room for this procedure, so you may not be aware the test was done. If you are not sure if your child's hearing was screened, you should ask your doctor or nurse.

How Do You Test a Baby's Hearing?

Determining how well your baby hears is accomplished through 2 different types of tests. The tests are quick and painless.

(1) Otoacoustic Emissions (the OAE) involves placing a tiny probe with a soft rubber-like tip into your baby's outer ear canal and then presenting sounds. If the cochlea (organ for hearing in the inner ear) can hear the sounds, it will send an echo back to the probe tip in your baby's ear. You can test many different pitches very fast. The complete test often takes less than 30 seconds to perform.

(2) Auditory Brainstem Response Test (the ABR) involves placing a small, soft electrode behind each of your baby's ears and on their forehead. Sounds are then presented to their ears through little tubes placed in their ears or tiny head phones placed over their ears.

If your baby can hear the sounds, their nerves will become excited and send tiny electrical impulses to the brain. These tiny impulses are recorded through the small electrode. This test is similar to an EKG, which records tiny electrical impulses from your heart.

The above tests are very sensitive and can pick up even mild hearing losses. Babies, who do not pass these initial hearing screening tests, are referred to an audiologist who can perform more sophisticated tests to confirm if a hearing loss is present. Keep in mind, not all babies who are "referred out" for more testing will demonstrate hearing loss. Sometimes babies fail the original screening test because the room was noisy or their ears were blocked.

If the audiologist confirms a hearing loss, she will explain to you the type and degree of hearing loss, what types of sounds your child may and may not hear, and what solutions, options and alternatives you have to accommodate and manage the hearing loss.

Hearing screening procedures are very reliable and they identify many hearing losses, very early in life. Nonetheless, keep in mind, no test is perfect. Some hearing losses develop later in childhood, and may not be identified during this initial screening process.

Once again, you, the parents and grandparents, are usually the first to discover hearing loss in your babies, because you spend the most time with them. If, at any time, you suspect your baby has a hearing loss, see your audiologist. You can find local listings for audiologists in the yellow pages or you can fill in the form below and submit it and a local audiologist will be located for you.

For more information on hearing testing products for infants visit www.icsmedical.com

To contact the author, please send an email to Dr. Petrak at mpetrak@icsmedical.com.

Click here to visit the ICS Medical website.

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