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Infant Hearing Screenings

Developmental ear conditions are the most common birth defect among babies in the U.S. Between 2 and 3 in every 1,000 babies are born with impaired hearing. In many cases, hearing issues aren’t identified when they should be—at birth. Without infant hearing screenings and follow up evaluations, many hearing problems aren’t diagnosed until children are two or older.

A baby goes through extensive physical development between birth and age two, absorbing a lot of emotional, learning and communication skills. Babies with hearing loss, however, experience major developmental setbacks during this time without the ability to learn from the sounds around them.

Baby with Toys

Newborn hearing loss can be difficult to detect without the help of a professional pediatric audiologist. Too many cases of infant hearing loss go undiagnosed until the child displays abnormal language development as a toddler. Some possible signs of newborn hearing loss include unresponsiveness to loud sounds or speech from behind and lacking development of normal babbling and sound repetition by age one.

Infant hearing screenings allow parents to identify and treat hearing loss early in order to prevent long-term developmental setbacks.

Detecting newborn hearing loss is more difficult than finding impairments in adults because infants can’t offer feedback during testing. Audiologists have developed tests, however, that measure responses from an infant’s auditory system using modern equipment and medical techniques.

Here’s a look at some important factors to know for an infant hearing screening:

  • Your audiologist will perform a few different hearing tests. One of the most common hearing screenings for infants is called an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test, which measures the brain’s nerve responses to sounds using electrodes attached to the ear and head. Another infant hearing evaluation is called an Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test, which uses a microphone and earphone to measure the echo or emission of sounds introduced into the ear canal.

  • Initial newborn hearing screenings indicate a potential need for further testing. A cursory hearing screening should be performed at the hospital within a few days of an infant’s birth. Anywhere between 2–10% of screenings indicate potential hearing loss; however, only 0.3% of infants suffer from permanent hearing loss. These tests are administered to identify potential problems as early as possible, promoting the prevention of developmental disorders. If your baby’s results are irregular, it’s vital to visit an audiologist for further testing.

  • Infant hearing loss is usually a temporary, treatable condition. The tests used in newborn hearing screenings are accurate; however, irregular results can occur for many different reasons. In most cases, results that indicate hearing loss are caused by easily treatable conditions like fluid buildups, earwax blockages, or ear infections. Sometimes the cause is never identified. Irregular test results simply mean your baby needs to see an audiologist for a more in-depth examination.

  • Irregular newborn hearing screening results should be followed up. At least 1 in every 50 newborn hearing screenings indicates a potential hearing loss. If your child may have hearing loss, you should continue scheduling checkup appointments annually. Identifying permanent hearing loss early is critical to your child’s development, so regular testing is highly advisable. Talk to an audiologist about your situation to find out how frequently you should test your child’s hearing in his or her first few years.

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