Newborn Hearing Screening

Your newborn son is the picture of health. You’ve counted all his fingers and toes, but can you count on his hearing ability?

About five infants out of 1,000 have some degree of hearing loss. Until recently, these problems usually were not detected until the infant had grown, and language/communication ability was affected. But catching hearing loss early, by age 6 months, can greatly improve treatment results and decrease the likelihood of future communication problems.

Despite the benefits, universal infant screening is not currently required.“However, a committee including experts from the National Institutes of Health is advocating universal screening,” says Diane Sabo, PhD, clinical director of audiology at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. “State Senator Charles Lemmond Jr. has sponsored a bill to mandate infant screenings in Pennsylvania.”

Types of Screenings

Advanced technology is used to screen infants, who obviously cannot use language to communicate or respond to conventional hearing tests. The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test records how the nervous system responds to sounds, but can be time-consuming and expensive. A more recently developed test, called an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test, takes minutes. 

“Children’s was on the forefront of screening using OAEs,” notes Sabo.“About a year ago, we began OAE testing of all infants in our neonatal intensive care unit. We can follow up with the ABR test if needed.”

In addition to screening, Children’s provides the full range of evaluation, speech/language therapy and state-of-the-art treatment. For example, we can provide hearing aids for both children and infants. Children’s partners with an innovative early intervention program to teach parents how to stimulate their children for sound detection. Assistive devices, such as vibrating alarm clocks, can help older kids function independently. In certain cases of hearing loss, Children’s can even perform advanced cochlear implant surgery.

Look for Signs and Come to a FREE Class

“If parents suspect a problem, they need to get it checked soon,” says Sabo.“Call your physician. Generally, by age 4 months infants should be soothed by their mother’s voice, startle at loud sounds, stop sucking when there is a sudden new sound and babble when talked to.” 

You can find out more at a free class called ABCs of Hearing and Hearing Loss. An audiologist will discuss hearing problems and treatments from birth through adolescence, and answer questions. Call 412-692-7105 for details and to register.