Newborn hearing screening is used to detect hearing loss in newborn babies. Newborns are typically tested before they leave the hospital. Screening is important to identify hearing problems early to ensure that babies with deafness or decreased hearing receive services to help them learn to listen and speak. Newborn hearing screening tests are safe and do not hurt the newborn.
Newborn babies learn to listen to sounds in their first months of life. They recognize the familiar sounds in their home and the voices of family members. Listening helps babies learn sounds and develop speech. Listening also helps them learn the meaning of words.
Newborn hearing screening is available to babies shortly after birth before they leave the hospital or within a few weeks after leaving the hospital. It is recommended that babies that are not born in a hospital receive a newborn hearing screening before they are two months old.
There are two main tests to screen for newborn hearing. The test that your baby receives may depend on the facility. The Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs) or Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) may be used separately or together to screen your baby’s hearing. Both tests are conducted while your baby is sleeping or very still. Both tests are safe and painless.
The OAEs uses a tiny microphone and earphone that are gently placed in your baby’s ears. Sounds are played in the earphone. If a sound is heard, the ear creates an echo. The echo is detected and recorded by the microphone. If no sound is heard, an echo is not created or detected. The ABR involves placing electrode patches on the baby’s head. The electrodes measure how the nerves for hearing are working. Sounds are played to stimulate the nerve, and a device records the responses.
Babies that are identified as having hearing loss are retested. False-positive test results are possible if the baby cries or moves during the test. Babies that test positive for hearing loss are referred to a pediatric audiologist. The pediatric audiologist may conduct more tests and recommend a treatment plan. Hearing aids and therapy services can help babies learn to communicate, listen, speak, and prevent developmental delays.