Newborn hearing screening is done soon after birth to check your baby’s hearing. When hearing loss is found early, a child can get the help they need for their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
About 1 in 500 babies is born without normal hearing. This is called permanent congenital hearing loss (PCHL).
Without screening, it can be hard to tell if a baby has hearing loss. Even though a baby may respond to sounds, they may not hear well enough to develop speech and language. More than half of all babies with PCHL are healthy and have no family history of hearing loss.
The earlier hearing loss is found, the sooner a baby will have support to help them develop language to prevent delays in their development. If hearing loss isn’t found early, children have a high risk of developing problems with speech, language, memory, learning, and social development.
It’s best to have your baby screened before they are 1 month old.
Hearing screening can be done quickly while your baby sleeps or is quiet. Younger babies spend a lot of time sleeping, so it’s easiest to screen hearing in babies who are very young.
There are 2 tests to screen for hearing loss in newborns. With both tests, a healthcare professional who is trained to screen hearing uses a small, soft ear probe to play quiet sounds into your baby’s ears. A computer measures how your baby’s ears respond to the sound.
Automated Otoacoustic Emission (AOAE) checks to see how well the cochlea (a part of the ear that detects and responds to sound) is working. The cochlea’s response to sound is called an otoacoustic emission. AOAE screening only takes a few minutes.
Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) checks how well the nerve for hearing is working. AABR uses 3 small sensors that are placed on your baby’s head and neck. When the ear hears sound, the sensors record the response of the nerve. This response is called an auditory brainstem response. AABR screening takes about 20 minutes.
Hearing screening is safe and doesn’t hurt. The sounds are quiet and the ear probes are soft.
No, you don’t have to have your baby’s hearing screened. But it’s important to talk your healthcare provider if you don’t want your baby’s hearing checked. They may give you information to help with your decision or offer resources to check your baby’s hearing.
You will get the results as soon as the screening is done. The result of the test is a pass or refer.
A pass result means that your baby is hearing well on the day of the screening. But it’s still important to have your baby’s hearing checked if you ever have concerns about their hearing, speech, or language development. A child’s hearing can change and it’s possible to develop hearing loss later in childhood.
A refer result means your baby did not pass the hearing screening, but it doesn’t mean your baby has hearing loss. Your baby will need another hearing test to rule out hearing loss.
There are several reasons why a baby doesn’t pass hearing screening. There may be hearing loss but not passing the test may also be related to vernix (the white substance that covers a baby at birth) in the ear canal or fluid in the middle ear. The best way to diagnose hearing loss in your baby is to take them to the more specialized follow-up hearing test.
Your baby will be referred for a more specialized hearing test called a diagnostic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test. This test is done by a pediatric audiologist (a healthcare provider who specializes in children’s hearing) at an audiology service centre closest to you. The audiology service will contact you to book the appointment.
The diagnostic ABR is the best way to find out if your baby has hearing loss. The test is safe and won’t hurt your baby. If your baby has hearing loss, you will get information about services to help your baby with their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
The diagnostic ABR test is done while your baby sleeps. The test is scheduled for up to 3 hours to allow time for your baby to fall asleep and to do the test. You can sit and hold your baby during the test.
Two sensors are placed on your baby’s forehead and one behind each ear. A small, soft probe will be put into each of your baby’s ears to play quiet sounds. The sensors record the response to sound.
It’s important that your baby has the diagnostic ABR testing when they are between 4 and 8 weeks old. The test is easiest to do in babies of this age because they sleep a lot so the test is often shorter and can be done in one appointment. The older a baby is, the more alert they are so the test can take longer or may need to be done over several appointments.
The earlier hearing loss is found, the sooner your baby will get the services they need to support their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
Waiting is hard, but the diagnostic testing is more accurate when your baby is at least 4 weeks old. Also, if your baby had any vernix or fluid in their ears at the time of the screening, waiting gives the ears a chance to clear.
Try to bring your baby awake to the appointment. We know it’s not easy, but your baby must be sleeping during the test.
To help your baby sleep during the test:
The pediatric audiologist will share the results of the test and explain them to you. Most of the time, you will get the test results on the same day as the test. If the test finds that your baby has permanent hearing loss, they may need another ABR test to better understand how your baby is hearing different sounds. You will also be referred to other specialists to help support you and your child.
Current as of: April 20, 2018
Author: Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program, Alberta Health Services
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