Did you learn that your baby did not pass their newborn hearing screening? The audiologists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are here to help!

How are newborns screened for hearing loss?

Zachary going through a hearing screening Nearly every baby born in a hospital in the United States has a hearing screening before they go home. Hospitals use two types of newborn hearing screening tests:

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing uses earphones to send sounds to your baby’s ears. Sticker sensors on your baby’s head detect how the hearing nerve responds to sounds.
  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) testing uses a tiny earphone and microphone placed in the baby’s ear. The earphone sends sounds to your baby’s ear. The microphone detects if there is a response from your baby’s inner ear.

These tests are quick and painless, and your baby needs to be quiet or asleep to get accurate results.

Why are newborns screened for hearing?

One to three newborns per thousand are born with hearing loss – and this number is much higher for children who have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for hearing loss. Hearing is critical to speech-language and social-emotional development.

The specialized equipment used by audiologists at CHOP can detect hearing loss early, allowing babies to receive the support and intervention they need to reach their full potential.

What are some reasons why a newborn fails a hearing screening?

Some babies do not pass their newborn hearing screening and it could be due to the following reasons:

  • The baby has hearing loss
  • There is fluid or debris in the ears
  • The baby was crying or moving during testing
  • There was too much noise in the room during testing

What should I do if my newborn fails the hearing screening?

If your newborn fails the hearing screening, arrange for follow-up testing as soon as possible. If your baby has hearing loss, having them tested and treated right away will likely produce better outcomes for your baby.

Your baby will receive ABR and OAE testing at their follow-up evaluation at CHOP. An audiologist will help you understand the results of your baby’s testing, answer any questions you may have, and if needed, guide you through next steps for your child.

If test results indicate hearing loss, your baby may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in the ears, nose and throat (ENT). Depending on the medical issue and type of hearing loss, the ENT doctor may order more testing to determine the cause of hearing loss or suggest a medical intervention that could improve your child’s hearing.

If your baby passes their follow-up testing at CHOP and has no risk factors for hearing loss, their hearing will be routinely monitored at primary care well-visits throughout their childhood. If you or your primary care pediatrician ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech and language development, an audiologist can do additional testing.

For more information about hearing testing or hearing loss, see CHOP’s Department of Audiology. For questions about early communication development, see CHOP’s Center for Childhood Communication.

Sarah McKay, AuD, CCC-A, is an audiologist who works in the Department of Audiology and the Center for Childhood Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Contributed by: Sarah McKay, AuD, CCC-A

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