A newborn hearing screening is a test done to make sure your baby does not have a problem hearing. The test is done by an audiologist, a person trained to identify and manage hearing problems. A newborn hearing test is usually done before a baby leaves the hospital after birth. If it is not done during the newborn period, it is usually done within the first month of life.
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The test is done to make sure that the baby does not have any hearing problems. Being able to hear well is important in a newborn’s life since a baby uses sound to assess his surroundings and to eventually learn how to speak.
Having a hearing test lets you and your baby’s doctor find out early whether your child has hearing problems, and if so, address the problems to help your child communicate as he gets older.
There are no major complications associated with this test.
There are no special steps to prepare for this test.
There are two different newborn hearing screening tests that are commonly used. Different nurseries may use one or both tests.
The audiologist will place a small microphone in your baby’s ear canal. The ear is then stimulated with sound, and an “echo” is measured. If an echo is detected, that is a sign that your baby is hearing fine. If there is no echo, this may be a sign of hearing loss.
The audiologist will place earphones on your baby, as well as electrodes on his head. If needed, the audiologist may give a mild sedative to your baby to keep him calm. A sound will be sent to the earphones. The audiologist will measure the electrical activity in the part of the baby’s brain that is responsible for hearing.
Your baby’s test results are recorded. The audiologist will explain the results to you.
Each test only takes minutes to do. It may take longer if your child is restless.
There is no pain associated with these tests.
The audiologist will let you know the results soon after the test is done. If your baby does not pass the test, the audiologist may test him again. Not passing does not mean that your baby definitely has hearing problems. There may have been fluid in his middle ear or wax in the ear canal that affected the hearing test. Also, crying and movement may affect test results.
Not passing the test does mean that your child will need further testing. With further testing your doctor can figure out if there is a problem with your babies hearing. If your baby is diagnosed with hearing loss, then the doctor may refer your baby to specialists who can help. These specialists may include ear doctors and teachers who work with children with hearing loss.
After the test, call your child’s doctor if you suspect that your child may have a hearing problem. Sometimes even if a baby has a normal hearing test, he may develop hearing problems as he gets older. Here are some signs of hearing problems to look for as your baby gets older:
- 0-3 months—does not respond to loud noises or your voice
- At 12 months—does not imitate sounds or speak simple words like “mama”
Toddler age—has difficulty with:
- Listening to sound from the television
- Paying attention
- Talking with others
Has your baby’s hearing been screened? National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at:
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/screened.asp. Updated May 2001. Accessed April 1, 2011.
Hearing evaluation in children. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/eyes/hear.html. Updated October 2009. Accessed April 1, 2011.
Joint Committee on Infant Hearing. Year 2007 position statement: principles and guidelines for early hearing detection and intervention programs.
Newborn screening. How does newborn screening testing work? My Baby’s Hearing website. Available at:
http://www.babyhearing.org/hearingamplification/newbornscreening/howscreeningworks.asp. Accessed April 1, 2011.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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