The newborn hearing screening will be done within the first few days of birth. It has been available to all babies since 2006 and over 6 million babies have been screened since then. It was the National deaf childrens society that pushed for the tests on all children, here is what is involved:
What is involved?
There are two simple and basic tests that can quickly highlight if there is any need for any further investigation, these are usually done on the maternity ward by trained hearing screeners but, on some occasions may be offered at home or at a clinic. The two tests are called the Otoacoustic Emissions test (OAE) and the Automated Auditory Brainstem Response test (AABR). These are both painless for baby.
What is the Otoacoustic Emissions test (OAE) and how does it work?
The OAE test is the first hearing screening your newborn will be subject to. A small ear piece consisting of a microphone and speaker are placed in baby’s ear and a clicking sound played. If the ear is functioning properly the microphone will pick up the faint echo produced by the cochlea (inner ear). The results are immediate and recorded on a computer for the screener to analyse. On some occasions it is necessary to refer for a second test, this doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a hearing problem, it may have been inconclusive or the test failed for a number of different reasons such as a noisy room or fluid in the ear. If the results of this test are fine there will be no need for further investigation. The second test is the Automated Auditory Brainstem Response test (AABR). approximately 15% of babies are referred for this test.
What is the Automated Auditory Brainstem Response test (AABR)?
The AABR test records your baby’s brain activity in response to sounds. This is done by attaching 3 sensors on to your child’s head and playing clicking sounds through headphones. The sensors record if there is a strong response in brain activity as would be expected. The reason a strong response of brain activity is expected is because of the way ears work; sounds travel as vibrations through the outer ear to the cochlea where they are then converted in to an electrical signal. The electrical signal is sent to the brain via the hearing nerve, thus producing an increase in brain activity in response to sounds. If no activity is detected, your baby will be referred for a full diagnostic of hearing. Around 3 out of every 100 children are referred for this.
A full diagnostic
if your child hasn’t shown strong responses to the two tests as detailed above, she will be referred for a full diagnostic assessment of her hearing. This will usually take place at your local audiology department.
The diagnostic assessment will include tympanomenty and Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) testing. Tympanometry tests how the eardrum and middle ear are working. This test is important because fluid or other problems in the middle ear can affect hearing. During a tympanogram test, a small earphone is placed in the ear canal and air pressure is gently changed. This test is helpful in showing if there is an ear infection or fluid in the ear.
If at any point you become concerned about your child’s hearing, you should contact your GP immediately. If your child is bring investigated, be sure to attend the appointments, the quicker a diagnosis is made, the quicker remedial actions can be put in place. It your child has hearing problems, it is unlikely you can change that, however, through quick diagnosis you will be able to support your child to live with the hearing loss (however severe) and ensure the impact of this is as minimal as possible (such as speech and language delays).