How early should your child's hearing be tested? Soon after birth, according to the nation's hearing and communication experts. If that answer surprises you, consider this: Every year, about 12,000 babies in this country are born with hearing problems. Many of these children will not be diagnosed and treated until after they are 2 years old. By then, they will have missed out on key years of stimulation of the hearing centers in their brains. As a result, they could have problems developing speech and language skills that could affect them the rest of their lives, especially in school or at work. Early detection, follow-up and treatment of hearing problems in newborns, however, can prevent many of these communication problems, according to an expert panel convened by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one component of the National Institutes of Health.
Now that advances in technology allow more precise and more accurate testing of infants' hearing, the panel said, all newborns should be screened--universal screening--in the hospital or birthing center before they are discharged. Ideally, infants should be tested before they are three months old, so that any necessary treatment can begin before 6 months of age--the crucial period in a baby's life for speech and language development.
In response to the panel's recommendations, NIDCD launched "Silence Isn't Always Golden," a nationwide campaign to increase the awareness of detecting early hearing loss. NIDCD collaborated with NIH's Office of Research on Minority Health and the National Medical Association.
The panel recommended several low-cost methods for universal newborn screening, including: Auditory Brainstem Responses (ABR) and Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE). Both tests are painless and take only minutes to administer.
In the ABR test, sound is introduced to the baby's ears through tiny headphones while the baby is sleeping. Three small discs placed usually on the baby's head measure whether the baby's brain is detecting the sounds. The whole process takes about 5 minutes if the baby is quiet and cooperative.
The OAE test works differently. OAEs are very faint, but detectable sounds produced by most normal ears. Although a person cannot hear his or her own emissions, tiny sensitive microphones placed in the ear canal can measure the sounds. During the OAE screeing, sound is introduced through a small flexible probe inserted into the sleeping baby's ear. A microphone inside the probe detects the emissions produced by the baby's ear in response to the sound. No emissions are detected from an infant who cannot hear.
"Silence Isn't Always Golden" has handy checklists to help parents monitor their child's hearing and reactions to sound from birth to 36 months of age, along with a glossary of terms doctors may use when talking to parents about a child's hearing.
A Word to the Wise...
Check your baby's hearing.
Find your child's age. Check yes or no for every item. After you complete the checklist, show it to your child's doctor. Ask the doctor questions. Talk about the items checked "no." If you think your child has trouble hearing, tell the doctor right away.
DiSCLAIMER: The content of this site is offered as educational material for parents, not as medical advice. If you have a question about a specific condition or symptom your child has then you need to consult a medical professional.