What parents need to know about newborn hearing screening

Contributed by | Thursday, June 9th, 2016

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Seeing your sweet, new baby snuggling in your arms and filling you with a sense of pride and possibilities is such a gift! Medical professionals know you want the best for your baby. That’s why most hospitals perform routine newborn hearing screenings before you leave the hospital. The results of these tests will provide important information about your child’s ability to hear.

Why newborn hearing screening is important

tiny baby ear
Chances are, your newborn can hear!

Chances are very good your baby can hear. Of the 97 percent of newborns screened each year, fewer than 1 percent have permanent hearing loss. If your child happens to fail the screening, it’s important to consult a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible. They will conduct further tests to determine if your child has hearing loss and, if so, to what extent.

Your baby’s sense of hearing is a crucial piece to the development puzzle. According to the American-Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), untreated hearing loss can cause delays in speech and language communication skills which affect academic achievement and may lead to social isolation and poor self-concept. Children who receive treatment in the form of cochlear implants, hearing aids and/or learning American Sign Language (ASL) are statistically better equipped to develop the language skills they need to succeed in school and the work environment.

The earlier hearing loss is detected, the sooner your family can enroll in age-appropriate intervention programs. Fortunately, all 50 states fund Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) programs designed to screen all babies for hearing loss by 1 month of age. Follow up screenings by 3 months of age confirm whether a baby is deaf or hard of hearing and provide enrollment into early intervention programs by 6 months of age. And, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all children who have hearing loss are entitled to receive free services throughout their education to age 21.

About the screening

Babies can cry a lot during routine medical procedures, but rest assured, newborn hearing screenings are safe and comfortable. Many infants sleep through the entire procedure, which usually only takes a few minutes.

Here’s a quick description of the two most common tests your newborn may experience:

  • Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) measures your baby’s response to sound by placing a miniature earphone and microphone in the ear. Normal hearing triggers an echo into the ear canal, which is measured by the microphone. If your baby has hearing loss, no echo is recorded.
  • Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) measures how the hearing nerve responds to sound through small electrodes placed on your baby’s head.

Your baby may have both tests together, one at a time, or the ABR only if they fail the OAE. Hospitals determine which tests they use based on costs, personnel and the number of babies born.

Intervention services

If your child is deaf or diagnosed with hearing loss, there are many different ways your child can learn to communicate. Your hearing healthcare professional and pediatrician can help you decide which option, or combination of options, is best for your child and your family.

Hearing devices

One of the most common ways to treat hearing loss is with hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Hearing aids can be used for mild to severe hearing loss, while cochlear implants are used for those with profound hearing loss. A hearing health professional can help you determine which option is for your child.

Language and communication

In addition to hearing devices, your child may learn language and communication with one of the following methods:

  • American Sign Language is a rich, distinct language with its own syntax and grammar which uses hand signs, gestures, body movements and facial expressions.
  • Cued speech combines hand movements with mouth shapes to make the sounds of traditional spoken language look different.
  • Auditory-oral learning uses your child’s natural hearing ability along with lipreading and hearing devices.

Assistive listening devices

Other devices can help your child communicate at home and school and enjoy many normal childhood experiences.

  • Personal FM amplifiers use a microphone and receiver to reduce background noise and improve poor acoustics in the classroom. When a teacher speaks into the microphone, the speech is converted into radio waves which are transmitted directly to the child’s receiver.
  • Closed captioning is available on almost all televisions. More and more movie theaters are also offering this service for their deaf and hard of hearing patrons.
  • Induction loop systems, found in many churches, schools and auditoriums, work with your child’s hearing aids to improve acoustics and speech clarity.

Follow up is key

If your child fails their newborn hearing screening, it’s important to follow up as soon as possible to determine whether or not they have hearing loss and, if so, when to begin treatment or services. Experts encourage parents to meet with a hearing professional who specializes in infants, a pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT), and a pediatric eye doctor since some babies with hearing loss also have problems with their vision. You may also want to meet with a geneticist to determine if your baby’s hearing loss is hereditary.

Most likely, your pediatrician can recommend a hearing healthcare professional who specializes in children. If not, you can find a professional near you by searching Healthy Hearing’s hearing clinic listings.

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