Hearing loss is the most common birth defect in the United States. Approximately 3-4 out of every 1,000 babies are born either deaf or hard of hearing. Screening newborns for hearing loss is an important step in ensuring a baby’s normal development. Without screening, babies with impaired hearing can have significant delays to their language, learning, speech, social, and emotional development.
Most hospitals have mandated newborn hearing screening programs but not all require them. If you are not certain about your state’s laws, check with the hospital where you plan to deliver. You will want to have your newborn’s hearing screened either in the hospital or very soon after birth.
Your newborn’s hearing typically will be screened soon after birth and before leaving the hospital. The screening doesn’t hurt and some babies even sleep through it. The results can be determined right away and will identify babies who need further testing.
There are two kinds of hearing screenings: otoacoustic emissions (OAE) and auditory brain stem response (ABR). Hospitals choose what screenings they use based on their resources, available equipment and personnel, and cost. Depending on the equipment used and training provided, the screening may be performed by a nurse, technician, or audiologist.
During an OAE test, a tiny earphone and microphone are placed in the baby’s ear. Then, sounds are played, and if the baby hears them normally, and echo bounces back into the ear canal and is “heard” by the microphone. If there is no echo, hearing loss may be indicated. During the more complex ABR test, baby earphones play sounds while tiny electrodes placed on the baby’s head and ears measure how the brain responds to these noises.
If either test suggests hearing loss, it is important to follow-up with a re-screening or other additional evaluation, preferably done before your baby is one month old. Or, if you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s response to these tests or about hearing development in general, talk to your pediatrician. The earlier your newborn’s hearing health is addressed, the more likely that hearing, language, and learning skills will fully develop.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management
- Newborn Hearing Screening.
American Academy of Audiology
- Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programs.
American Academy of Otolaryngology
- Fact Sheet: Child Screening.
American Academy of Pediatrics
- Newborn and Infant Hearing Loss.
Powered by Bundoo®