Childhood Hearing Screening

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Many people consider hearing loss a simple consequence of aging. The reality, however, is that hearing loss knows no age limitations, affecting an estimated 48 million U.S. adults and children and more than 360 million people worldwide.

Two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing, making hearing loss the most common birth disorder. Many studies have shown that early diagnosis of hearing loss is crucial to the development of speech, language, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities. Treatment is most successful if hearing loss is identified early, preferably within the first month of life. Still, one in every four children born with serious hearing loss does not receive a diagnosis until age three or older.

When to Screen

The first opportunity to test a child’s hearing is in the hospital shortly after birth. If your child’s hearing is not screened before leaving the hospital, it is recommended that screening be done within the first month of life. Should test results indicate a possible hearing loss, seek further evaluation as soon as possible; preferably within the first three to six months of life.

Is Early Hearing Screening Mandatory?

In recent years, health organizations across the country, including the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, have worked to highlight the importance of screening all newborns for hearing loss. These efforts are working. Currently, more than 95 percent of all newborns in the United States were screened for hearing loss, up from 85 percent in 2003. In fact, all states have established a early hearing detection and intervention program and some 42 states have passed legislation requiring some form of hearing screening of newborns before they leave the hospital. There still are many babies who are not screened for hearing loss before leaving the hospital.

How Testing Works

Child hearing screening primarily involves two tests:

  • Otoacoustic emissions testing: OAE involves placement of a sponge earphone in the ear canal to measure whether the ear can respond properly to sound. In normal-hearing children, a measurable “echo” should be produced when sound is emitted through the earphone. If no echo is measured, it could indicate a hearing loss.
  • Auditory brain stem response: ABR is a more complex test. Earphones are placed on the ears and electrodes are placed on the head and ears. Sound is emitted through the earphones while the electrodes measure how your child’s brain responds to the sound.

If either test indicates a potential hearing loss, your physician may suggest a follow-up evaluation by an otolaryngologist.

Signs of Hearing Loss In Children

Hearing loss can also occur later in childhood, after a newborn leaves the hospital. In these cases, parents, grandparents, and other caregivers are often the first to notice that something may be wrong with a young child’s hearing. Even if your child’s hearing was tested as a newborn, you should continue to watch for signs of hearing loss including:

  • Not reacting in any way to unexpected loud noises,
  • Not being awakened by loud noises
  • Not turning his/her head in the direction of your voice
  • Not being able to follow or understand directions
  • Poor language development
  • Speaking loudly or not using age-appropriate language skills

Tell your doctor if your child shows any signs of hearing loss.

What Happens If My Child Has A Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss in children can be temporary or permanent. It is important to have hearing loss evaluated by a physician who can rule out medical problems that may be causing the hearing loss, such as otitis media (ear infection), excessive earwax, congenital malformations, or a genetic hearing loss.

Potential treatment may include one of these solutions or other options:

  • Treatment of underlying causes such as ear infection, excess earwax, congenital malformations, or other issues.
  • Hearing aids, which amplify the sound that reaches your child’s ear.
  • Surgically implanted hearing technology such as cochlear implants, which bypass damaged parts of the auditory system and directly stimulates the hearing nerve and allows the child to hear louder and clearer sound.

You will need to decide whether or not your deaf child will communicate primarily with oral speech and/or sign language, and seek early intervention to prevent language delays. Research indicates that habilitation of hearing loss by age six months will prevent subsequent language delays. Other communication strategies such as auditory verbal therapy, lip reading, and cued speech may also be used in conjunction with a hearing aid or cochlear implant, or independently.

Whether you decide your hearing-impaired child will communicate orally, with sign language, or through a combination thereof, early intervention makes a difference. Help keep your child on track in language development and more with timely, expert hearing care. Contact us today to learn more.