The Universal Neonatal Hearing Screening program or newborn hearing screening is a way of detecting new born hearing loss early on. Since hearing loss occurs often enough in the general population this is a test required by law. Whereas earlier the screening was performed only for infants thought to be in the high risk category, it is now performed routinely for all babies, even those who have no known risk factors.
2 to 4 infants out of every 1000 births has some form of hearing loss, making deafness or partial deafness one of the most common congenital problems among new born babies. Newborn hearing screening assumes particular significance when one takes into account the importance of early identification of hearing loss – this can mean that the educational, language and psychological impacts of impaired hearing can be avoided.
Contrary to popular belief hearing loss is not easy for parents to detect. The usual ploy of clapping the hand behind the baby’s head to see if he or she reacts may be inaccurate since a baby could react to visual cues, or to the feeling of air passing or even a parent’s expressions.
Why newborn hearing screening is important
As many as 12,000 babies born in the United States have hearing loss and in light of this, the screening for deafness assumes great importance.
In many cases hearing impairment is not detected till the child is several years old and statistics show that prior to universal screening, it could go undetected till the child is about 2 to 3. If the hearing loss is mild or moderate, that age could be as high as 4 years.
Babies begin to develop language as soon as they are born and so hearing impairment can affect language development negatively the longer it goes undetected. So it is a misconception that there is no harm if hearing loss is not detected till the child is a few years old. What the newborn hearing screening test does is, it helps parents and clinicians start treatments or interventions early in a baby’s life to minimizedevelopmental hurdles that hearing loss causes.
Babies as young as 1 month of age are known to benefit from hearing aids so it is easy to see why early detection of hearing loss within the mandatory 1 month after birth can be of vital importance.
The test is simple, non invasive and causes the baby no discomfort or disturbance.
Follow up tests – What they can mean and why they are required
A baby passing his or her hearing test doesn’t necessarily mean that the child may not develop some problem with hearing at a later stage or that the problem remained undetected for some other reason. So a follow up test to the first hearing test is needed to see that intervention of any sort is not needed later on.
Not passing the newborn hearing screening test at the first go is also not something that should dishearten parents since a failure to pass the test doesn’t necessarily mean that there is hearing impairment. Moving or crying during the test could yield inaccurate results. Also fluid in the middle ear, and debris or deposits in the ear canal and so on could cause a baby to hear poorly in the shorter duration and a follow up test will reveal that hearing is normal otherwise.