Hearing Health Foundation

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Newborn Hearing Screening

Hearing Health Foundation was instrumental in advocating for the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening legislation. In 1993, only 5% of newborns were tested at birth for hearing loss. By 1997, 94% were test before leaving the hospital, and today 97% of babies are screened before they leave the hospital.

  • Of babies who have their hearing tested, 1.6% do not pass.
  • Of those who do not pass the hearing screening, 69% are diagnosed with having hearing loss before 3 months of age.
  • The number of infants screened for hearing loss increased from 2006 (95.2%) to 2012 (96.6%).

Today, almost all hospitals and birthing centers throughout the U.S. screen newborns for hearing loss.

New parents should talk to their doctors to make sure a hearing test was performed and ask for the results. If a baby’s hearing was not screened it is best to speak to a pediatrician and schedule an initial hearing screening before the child is 1 month old.

Approximately 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard of hearing. Fortunately, early identification allows children with hearing loss to receive help they need during the first two years of life, a critical period for the development of speech and language skills.

Left undetected, hearing loss can negatively impact speech and language acquisition, academic achievement, and social and emotional development. These negative impacts can diminish and even be eliminated through early detection and intervention.

Hospitals use two different types of newborn hearing screening tests. Both are safe and comfortable for your baby.

Otoacoustic Emissions Test

Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) are given off by the inner ear when the cochlea is stimulated by a sound. When sound stimulates the cochlea, the outer hair cells vibrate. The vibration produces a nearly inaudible sound that echoes back into the middle ear. Those with typical hearing produce these emissions, while those with a hearing loss greater than 25-30 dB do not.

OAE tests are typically used during newborn screenings. During the test, a soft foam earphone and microphone are placed in the ear. If a baby hears normally, an echo is reflected back into the ear canal and is measured by the microphone. When a baby has a hearing loss, middle ear fluid, blockage or damage, no echo can be measured.

Auditory Brainstem Response Test

The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test provides information about the inner ear (cochlea) and brain pathways for hearing. When conducting ABR tests, hearing specialists play sounds into the baby’s ears. Bandage-like electrodes are placed on the baby’s head to detect brain wave activity. This test measures how the hearing nerve responds to sounds and can identify babies who have a hearing loss.

During ABR tests, the infant being tested rests quietly or sleeps while the test is performed. In newborn screenings only one intensity or loudness level is checked, and the baby either passes or fails the screen.