Hearing Screening for Babies
Most children hear and listen to sounds at and even before birth. They learn to talk by imitating the sounds they hear around them and the voices of their parents and caregivers. But that’s not true for all children. In fact, about two or three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. More lose hearing later during childhood. Children who have hearing loss may not learn speech and language as well as children who can hear. For this reason, it’s important to detect hearing loss as early as possible.
Because of the need for prompt identification of and intervention for childhood hearing loss, universal newborn hearing screening programs currently operate in all U.S. states and most U.S. territories. With help from the federal government, every state has established an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program. As a result, about 98% of babies have their hearing screened before 1 month of age.
Why is it important to have my baby’s hearing screened early?
The most important time for a child to learn language (spoken or signed) is in the first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing. In fact, children with typical hearing begin learning speech and language in the first 6 months of life. This is why it is so important to screen and start interventions for hearing loss as early as possible. Research shows that children with hearing loss who get help early develop better language skills than those who don’t.
When will my baby’s hearing be screened?
Your baby’s hearing should be screened before he or she leaves the hospital or birthing center. If not, make sure the baby is tested during the first month of life. If your baby’s hearing was not tested within 1 month of birth, or if you haven’t been told the results of the hearing screening, ask your child’s doctor today. Quick action will be important if the screening shows potential hearing loss.
How will my baby’s hearing be screened?
Two different tests are used to screen for hearing loss in babies. Your baby can rest or sleep during both tests.
- tests whether some parts of the ear respond to sound. During this test, a soft earphone is inserted into your baby’s ear canal. It plays sounds and measures an “echo” response that occurs in ears with normal hearing. If there is no echo, your baby might have hearing loss.
- tests how the auditory nerve and brain stem (which carry sound from the ear to the brain) respond to sound. During this test, your baby wears small earphones and has electrodes painlessly placed on his or her head. The electrodes adhere and come off like stickers and should not cause discomfort.
What should I do if my baby’s hearing screening reveals potential hearing loss?
If the results show that your baby may have hearing loss, make an appointment with a pediatric audiologist—a hearing expert who specializes in the assessment and management of children with hearing loss. This follow-up exam should be done as soon as possible, ideally by the time the baby is 2 to 3 months old. The audiologist will conduct tests to determine whether your baby has a hearing problem and, if so, the type and extent of that problem.
If you need help finding a pediatric audiologist, ask your pediatrician or the hospital staff who conducted your baby’s screening. They may even be able to help you schedule an appointment. You can also try the directories provided by the American Academy of Audiology (https://www.audiology.org/consumers-and-patients/) or the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (https://www.asha.org/profind). If the follow-up examination confirms that your baby has hearing loss, he or she should begin receiving intervention services as soon as possible, ideally by the age of 3 to 6 months.
The pediatric audiologist may recommend that your baby visit a pediatric ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician who specializes in conditions affecting the ear, known as a pediatric otologist. A pediatric otologist can determine possible causes of hearing loss and recommend intervention options. If your child has siblings, the audiologist or otologist may also recommend that their hearing be tested.
The follow-up exam revealed that my baby’s hearing is fine. Does that mean we don’t need to check his or her hearing again?
- as childhood illness, ear infection, head injury, certain medications, and loud noise are also linked to hearing loss in children. Use “Your Baby’s Hearing and Communicative Development Checklist” (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/ your-babys-hearing-and-communicative-development-checklist) to monitor and track your child’s communication milestones through age 5. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing at any age, talk to your pediatrician right away.
- Worn behind the ear, hearing aids help make sounds louder and clearer. Hearing aids can be used for different degrees of hearing loss in babies as young as 1 month. A pediatric audiologist who is experienced in treating infants and children can help you choose the best hearing aid and make sure that it fits securely and is properly adjusted.
- If your child cannot benefit from a hearing aid, your doctor or audiologist may suggest a cochlear implant. This electronic device can provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf or hard-of-hearing. The device converts sounds into electrical signals and carries them past the nonworking part of the inner ear to the brain. Cochlear implants can be surgically placed in children as young as 12 months, or sometimes earlier.
- As your child grows, other devices may be useful. Some devices help children hear better in a classroom. Others amplify one-on-one conversations or make talking on the phone or watching TV and videos easier.
Children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can learn to communicate in several ways. Find out as much as you can about the communication choices and ask your health care team to refer you to experts if you want to know more. Because language development begins early, regardless of the communication mode you choose, you should engage with your child and begin intervention as soon as possible.
Common approaches used to help children with hearing loss communicate and interact with others include:
- (also known as auditory-verbal): works to strengthen listening, talking, and reading skills through the use of natural hearing and hearing devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, without the use of manual communication.
- emphasizes residual natural hearing in combination with amplification devices and technology to help children develop speech and spoken-language skills. It includes the use of speech reading and natural gestures in the communication process.
- is a system of specific hand shapes and placements that represent groups of consonants and vowels and that are used in combination with natural lip movements.
- is a visual-manual, natural language that is used in the American Deaf community.
- use aspects of various communication approaches, some of which are listed above, to expose children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to many ways to communicate with others.