Newborn Hearing Screening: Walking Through the Process & Results

newborn hearing

Delivering newborn hearing screening results should preferably be done before a child leaves the hospital after his birth.

Newborn Hearing Screening

In 1993, the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Program decided that all newborns should be tested for hearing loss. This should preferably be done before an infant leaves the hospital after birth. Approximately one child in every 1,000 is born deaf. These statistics do not include infants who develop hearing problems later on in childhood nor those who are born with a lesser form of hearing impairment, however.

When hearing is impaired, the impact upon a child is significant. This is especially true if the impairment occurs during the first three years of life, as this is the critical period of speech and language development. When hearing loss occurs during the formative years of a child's life, the impairment can reverberate through a child's emotional and social development and academic achievement as well. Delivering newborn hearing screening results as early as the first few weeks of a baby's life can make all the difference in his overall cognitive, emotional, and social development.


With all of the excitement surrounding a baby's birth, parents are often at a loss as to what tests need to be administered while their child is still in the hospital. In many cases, parents rely upon the doctors and nurses to do what needs to be done before their child is released. While more hospitals have put into place routine hearing screenings, you should inquire if your baby has been screened before you leave the hospital. There are typically two common types of screening tests used in hospitals today.

Otoacoustic Emissions

The otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test is typically the first test given to newborns. This test uses a miniature microphone and earphone to measure responses as sounds are played. An echo reflected back into the ear canal and detected by the microphone indicates that a newborn's hearing is normal. If an echo isn't present, a hearing loss is indicated.

Auditory Brainstem Response

Another common hearing test is the auditory brainstem response (ABR). ABR uses electrodes, which are placed on a baby's head, to measure responses from the hearing nerve as sounds are played in a baby's ear. This test is typically given after the otacoustic emissions test has been used.

What Newborn Hearing Screening Results Mean

Those charged with delivering newborn hearing screening results must understand the significance of the testing results. It is common for as many as 10 percent of babies tested to fail the first hearing test and not have a hearing impairment. Follow-up testing could reveal that no hearing loss is evident. Newborns may fail the test simply because they moved during the procedure or had fluid in the middle ear. If your child fails his first newborn hearing screening, it is imperative that you take him to his follow-up screening.

Hearing Loss Diagnosis

If your baby fails the first hearing exam, a follow-up test will be scheduled. If he fails this test as well, diagnostic testing is usually performed. In most cases, the ABR is used as a method of diagnostic testing. Because a wiggly baby can affect the results of the test, most testing is done while the baby is asleep. If your baby is diagnosed with a hearing impairment, you will begin consulting with several professionals who can help you and your baby.

  • Early Intervention Specialists: Early intervention specialists will work with your child, and they can create a plan based on his needs.
  • Audiologist: You will consult with an audiologist as to the necessity of hearing aids if applicable.
  • Pediatrician: Your pediatrician will work closely with you and the other professionals in the treatment of your baby.
  • ENT Specialist: You may also be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Even if your child has passed the newborn screening test, if you feel that there are problems with his hearing, you should report your suspicions to your pediatrician. In some cases, the hearing loss may have gone undetected. In others, your child may not have had a hearing problem initially, but an illness or other problem may have caused a hearing impairment. Trust your instincts, and see your doctor!

For more information, visit the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management site.

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Newborn Hearing Screening: Walking Through the Process & Results