How & why hearing screenings can help your baby

Most children hear and listen to sounds from birth, and learn to talk by imitating the sounds 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 deaf or hard-of-hearing, and more lose their hearing later during childhood.

Many of these children may need to learn speech and language differently, so it’s important to detect deafness or hearing loss as early as possible. For this reason, every state has established an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program as part of its public health system. As a result, more than 95 percent of babies have their hearing screened soon after they are born.

When will my baby’s hearing be screened?

baby-hearing-screening-testYour baby’s hearing should be screened before he or she leaves the hospital or birthing center. If you and your baby are already home and you haven’t been told the results of the hearing screening, ask your doctor.

If the results indicate your baby may have hearing loss, it’s important to work with your doctor to make an appointment with a hearing expert, called an audiologist, to perform a more thorough hearing test before your baby is 3 months old.

How will my baby’s hearing be screened?

Two different tests are used to screen for hearing loss in babies. In both tests, no activity is required from your child other than lying still.

  • The otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test shows whether parts of the ear respond properly to sound. During this test, a soft sponge earphone is inserted into your baby’s ear canal and emits a series of sounds to measure an “echo” response that occurs in normal hearing ears. If there is no echo, it could indicate hearing loss.
  • The auditory brain stem response (ABR) test checks how the auditory brain stem (the part of the nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain) and the brain respond to sound by measuring their electrical activity as your child listens. During this test, your baby wears small earphones in the ears and electrodes on the head. Your baby might be given a mild sedative to keep him or her calm and quiet during the test. If your child doesn’t respond consistently to the sounds presented during either of these tests, your doctor will suggest a follow-up hearing screening and a referral to an audiologist for a more comprehensive hearing evaluation. If hearing loss is confirmed, it’s important to consider the use of hearing devices and other communication options before your baby is 6 months old.
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Why is it important to have my baby’s hearing screened early?

The most important time for a child to learn language is in the first three years of life. In fact, children begin learning speech and language in their first six months.

Research suggests that children with hearing loss who get help early develop better language skills than those who don’t. Therefore, the earlier you know about a child’s hearing loss, the sooner you can make sure your child benefits from strategies that will help him or her learn to successfully communicate.

What if my baby wasn’t screened?

Every state has an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program that works to identify infants and children with hearing loss, and promotes timely follow-up testing and services for any family whose child has a hearing loss.

If your baby has a hearing loss, or if you have any concerns about your baby’s hearing, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit the EHDI Program site to learn more about this topic and available services in your area.

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