Newborn Hearing Screening
All newborn babies should have their hearing tested before they leave the hospital or before their six week check-up with the pediatrician. We use Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) tests at hospitals to screen newborns.
Hearing screening for newborn babies is available through the Neonatal Early Detection of Hearing Loss (NEDOHL) program. The program focuses on early detection of permanent congenital hearing loss in newborn babies. The goal of the program is to indentify babies with hearing loss at an early age so that appropriate follow up and treatment can be recommended.
The effects of even a mild hearing loss on speech and language acquisition during the critical first two years of life can result in significant speech and language delays which may lead to learning, social and emotional difficulties.
Currently the age of identification without a screening program is 2 – 3 years of age for children with profound hearing losses. Children with a milder hearing loss are not identified until they are 5 -6 years of age. The early identification of hearing loss allows for intervention at a very young age.
HOW IS A NEWBORN BABY'S HEARING TESTED?
Technology has made it possible to evaluate a newborn baby’s hearing mechanism in a quick, harmless manner while the baby is sleeping. This procedure is called Otoacoustic emission testing (OAE). A small rubber probe is placed in the baby’s outer ear and soft click sounds presented. The inner ear “echos” the click sounds back to the probe and will either detect the echo by showing “pass” or if no “echo” is present indicate “refer”.
WHAT DOES A "PASS" OR "REFER" MEAN?
A “pass” indicates present inner ear (cochlear) emissions at the time of the test. An annual hearing check-up is recommended if the baby has no other risk factors. A follow-up hearing test is recommended in 3 months if there is an additional risk for late-onset hearing loss.
A “refer” result does not necessarily indicate a hearing loss. Your baby will need a second hearing evaluation in 2-6 week’s time. The most common reasons that a baby will need a re-screen are:
An ear canal blocked with debris
Middle ear fluid/infection or
Less common permanent sensory hearing loss
If your baby fails a second screening test or has been admitted to NICU or had low birth weight or had low APGAR scores an additional screening test called the auditory brainstem response (ABR) is imperative. The ABR consists of band-aid like electrodes placed on the baby's head. Sounds are played to the baby’s ears and responses detected. This test measures how the hearing nerve responds to sounds and can identify babies who
have a hearing loss.
When a baby fails the hearing screening tests, he or she is referred for more detailed, diagnostic hearing testing. If a hearing loss is found, then hearing aids and intervention programs e.g. speech language therapy is started to help the baby learn to listen, speak and socialise.