Hearing loss in children is more common than you may realize. Hearing loss occurs in two to three per 100 babies born in the United States, prompting hospitals to offer hearing screening as part of the newborn package or charge a small fee for the test. I strongly recommend all parents have their baby’s hearing checked prior to discharge.
Hearing Test for Newborns
The hearing test is quick and painless for the baby. It is administered by either a nurse or other hospital employee trained in the procedure. The test will be explained and results will be available as soon as the test is completed. The test will be an automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) or otoacoustic emissions (OAE). I have completed thousands of these tests and can assure the parents there is absolutely no discomfort from the test. If you have a home birth, you can call an audiologist, ask if he or she has the newborn hearing screening equipment and schedule the test at the doctor’s office. It is important to complete the test during the first month so the baby will sleep through the test. Much later than one month of age, the baby will wake up and see the stranger touching them and become agitated.
When Babies Don’t Pass the Screening
If the baby does not pass the hearing screening at the first attempt, the baby is scheduled for a follow-up screening. Many times when a baby is born, there is debris in the ear canals, causing a mild hearing loss. I ask the parents to massage the baby’s ears gently as they are feeding the baby to encourage the debris to migrate out. Do not stick anything in the ear canal, just massage the ears.
When Babies Don’t Pass the Follow-Up Test
A diagnostic test is completed if the follow-up test shows possible hearing loss. The test is an auditory brainstem response test (ABR) and will show the audiologist how well the hearing organ picks up sound and sends it into the brain. Each ear is tested independently. There are small electrodes taped to the baby’s head and earphones in the ear canals to send a sound to be measured. This, too, is a painless procedure. The baby must be asleep for this test to work so again, the younger the baby, the more likely he/she will sleep during the procedure. If the child is much more than four months old, the audiologist may recommend a light sedation to ensure the baby stays asleep during the entire test.
What If My Baby has a Hearing Loss?
If the audiologist says there is hearing loss in one or both ears, the next topic will be the cause. A referral to an ear, nose and throat doctor will be made. Is the hearing loss conductive or sensorineural? With a conductive hearing loss, there is a chance the hearing loss is because of continued debris in the canal or middle ear fluid. This would be temporary hearing loss. If the hearing loss is because of abnormal middle ear bones or a growth in the middle ear cavity, an ear surgeon would discuss surgical options with you. A sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the hearing organ of the ear or the sound pathways in the brain. This type of loss is treated with hearing aids or a cochlear implant, depending on the degree of hearing loss.
Choosing Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implant
Babies with hearing loss are fit with hearing aids around two months of age. When hearing aids are fit, speech therapy is recommended to help teach the family how to speak to the baby and how to monitor speech and language development.
If the child has a profound hearing loss with no improvement in awareness of sound while wearing hearing aids, a cochlear implant is recommended. I like to schedule the cochlear implant surgery at 12 month of age. I ask parents to schedule a consultation with the surgeon for cochlear implant at 10 months so all involved are ready to go by 12 months of age. The FDA requires a trial with hearing aids prior to the cochlear implant. The earlier a baby is fit with a cochlear implant, the better the outcome.
I have seen amazing speech and language development in children who are amplified and receive consistent speech therapy. The new technology is remarkable! QCBN
By Karon Lynn, Au.D.
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Karon Lynn is a doctor of audiology with 30 years of experience working with hearing impaired individuals. Dr. Lynn may be reached at 928-522-0500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.