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Purpose of Newborn Hearing Tests

July 18, 2017 at midnight

Pregnancy seems to be an endless cycle of tests. Blood tests, ultrasounds, and glucose screenings, to name a few. There are countless ways to ensure that a baby and mother are healthy. It would seem that by the time an infant is born, he or she would be ready for Stanford.

And that's just the beginning.

After birth, babies are poked and prodded for more tests, including the newborn hearing screening. While it may seem silly to test for impaired hearing mere days after birth--after all, it isn't as though a baby can raise his right hand to acknowledge hearing a beep--it is actually an optimum time to check a child for hearing issues. Here's why.

Purpose of Newborn Hearing Screening

Hearing screenings are a normal part of care in most hospitals across the United States. In 2011, 97.9 percent of newborns in the country had their hearing checked within the first few weeks of life.

There are two primary reasons to undergo newborn hearing checks. The first is to identify infants who are apt to have hearing loss and make sure they receive further evaluation. The second purpose is to identify babies with medical conditions that may cause hearing loss later in life and establish a plan for continuous hearing monitoring.

Although the numbers are slim -- approximately 1 to 3 babies out of 1,000 are born with some degree of hearing loss -- for those families, early intervention is vital. Without a screening at such a young age, many instances of hearing loss would go undiagnosed for the first months and years of a child's life because detection is difficult in those later stages. Moreover, only half of all children with eventual hearing loss have any known risk factors, thereby decreasing the chances that parents would test for this later.

Passing (or not) the Initial Hearing Screening

Passing a screening does not mean a child has normal hearing across the range of frequencies, however. Since minimal and frequency-specific hearing loss are not tested in traditional hearing screening programs, infants with these issues may pass the traditional screening. As such, it's important to assess children for speech and psychoeducational milestones throughout childhood and seek professional testing if these pose a concern.

Alternatively, many newborns do not pass the initial screening despite having normal hearing. This can be caused by a variety of reasons. Children who do not pass the initial hearing test are immediately referred to an audiologist for a comprehensive audiologic evaluation. The hope is that all children with hearing loss will be accurately diagnosed by three months of age.

If you have concerns about your child's hearing or language development, speak to your doctor or visit your local hearing center. Early identification is the best way to ensure that hearing loss doesn't impede your child's development.



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