What is a newborn hearing screen?

A newborn hearing screen helps detect possible hearing loss. It should be performed prior to hospital discharge.

Why should a baby receive a hearing screen?

Babies learn to talk by listening and can’t tell us if they can’t hear. Early detection of hearing loss can lead to early intervention, such as hearing aids, if needed. Early intervention, by 6 months of age, can dramatically increase the quality of life for a child with hearing loss.

What causes hearing loss in newborns?

The following factors may contribute to hearing loss:

  • Genetics – Hearing loss may be passed on in families.
  • Environment – Infection during pregnancy, such as Cytomegalovirus (CMV) or Rubella, may cause hearing loss in newborns.

Sometimes the cause of hearing loss is unknown.

Is all hearing loss permanent?

Some hearing loss may be temporary. For example, a blockage in the ear canal or fluid in the middle ear cavity may cause temporary hearing loss. Other types of hearing loss are permanent.

If a baby does not pass the newborn hearing screen, follow-up testing completed by an audiologist is the only way to determine if the hearing loss is temporary or permanent.

How is a baby’s hearing screened?

A trained screener will place three small pads (sensors), which are attached to a computer, on the baby. An earpiece is then placed over each ear. The computer sends a series of soft sounds equivalent to a whisper to each ear. When these sounds are played, the sensors measure the baby’s brain response to the sound and interpret how well he or she is able to hear them.

A ‘pass’ or ‘did not pass’ (refer) result is recorded for each ear.

What happens if a baby does not pass in one or both ears?

If a baby does not pass the screen in one or both ears, depending on hospital and state guidelines, we may recommend:

  • an outpatient rescreen, or
  • a follow-up appointment with an audiologist to confirm or rule out hearing loss.

What if a baby passes the hearing screen?

Concern for a baby’s hearing should not stop at birth. Hearing loss can develop months or even years later. If a baby does not meet the age-related speech/language development milestones below, talk to his or her doctor about another hearing screen. If the baby’s family has a history of early childhood hearing loss, we recommend another hearing screen between 3 and 6 months of age. Always consult with the baby's doctor for specific recommendations.

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