Hearing tests – babies

Key points about hearing tests in babies

  • Babies and children can have temporary or permanent hearing loss.
  • If your child can't hear properly, this can affect their learning, concentration and communication.
  • For this reason, a newborn hearing test is offered to all babies within the first month of life.
  • If you have concerns about your baby's hearing, talk to your healthcare provider.
Baby lying on white sheet gets hearing test
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Being able to hear well is important for learning how to speak as well as for learning and social development. The sooner any hearing impairment is picked up in a baby or child, the sooner they can get any treatment or support they need. 

This screening programme started in New Zealand in 2007 after similar programmes overseas showed strong benefits.

The test used to screen newborns for hearing loss is called an automated auditory brainstem response (aABR) screening test. 

  • The aABR screen test is used for all babies.
  • The test measures whether your baby's ears are responding to sounds, and whether their brain is responding to that sound.
  • Babies who do not pass the first screen have a second aABR screen before being referred to an audiologist (a healthcare provider who specialises in hearing) for diagnosis.

Image: Pixabay

  • Small sensors are placed on your baby's forehead, and below and above an ear.
  • A cushioned earpiece is placed over one ear at a time and a chirping sound is played through this.
  • The sensors on your baby's head pick up the response from your baby's hearing nerve.
  • A computer measures the response and provides a result.
  • The test takes about 15–20 minutes and doesn't cause your baby any pain.
  • A second test is offered if the results from the first test are unclear.

Most babies are screened before they leave hospital for the first time. If this doesn’t happen, ask your midwife or family doctor to help organise a screening for your baby. Ideally, this should be done before your baby is 1month old.

In New Zealand, the programme is provided free of charge for eligible babies.

There are no risks to your baby with this test.

Sometimes it is recommended that a baby’s hearing is tested again when they are older, even though their screening result was a ‘pass’. This is because there are some types of hearing loss that develop over time. 

There are some factors that increase a baby’s risk of developing hearing impairment in later childhood. These include:

  • if you had certain infections during your pregnancy
  • babies born with certain congenital or inherited conditions
  • if your baby has had some types of infections
  • if your baby needed certain medications or treatments in their first few days
  • if your baby has had treatment in neonatal care (NICU) or special baby care. 

If this is the case, your baby will be referred to Audiology for follow up.

Universal newborn hearing screening programme(external link) National Screening Unit, NZ

Resources

Newborn hearing screening – your baby's hearing screen(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2015 available in the following languages: English(external link), te reo Māori(external link), Sāmoan(external link), Tongan(external link), Chinese Simplified, (external link)Chinese Traditional(external link), Hindi(external link), Korean(external link)
Newborn hearing screening – referral to an audiologist(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2015 English(external link), te reo Māori(external link), Samoan(external link), Tongan(external link), Chinese (simplified)(external link), Chinese (traditional)(external link), Hindi(external link), Korean(external link)
Repeat newborn hearing screen(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2008
Newborn hearing screening results(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2015 available in the following languages: English(external link), te reo Māori(external link)Tongan(external link)Samoan(external link)Korean(external link), Hindi(external link), Chinese (simplified)(external link)Chinese (traditional)(external link)
Your hearing aids(external link) Oticon, NZ available in the following languages te reo Māori(external link)Samoan(external link)Tongan(external link)
Keeping an eye on your child's hearing(external link) B4 School Hearing Screening, Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017 available in the following languages: English(external link)Chinese (simplified)(external link)Chinese (traditional)(external link)Hindi, (external link)Korean(external link), te reo Māori(external link)Samoan(external link)Tongan(external link)

References

  1. Yoshinaga-Itano C. Early intervention after universal neonatal hearing screening: impact on outcomes(external link) Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2003;9(4):252-66. 
  2. About the test(external link) National Screening Unit, NZ, 2016

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Zoe Hector, Clinical Audiologist, Researcher & Social Entrepreneur, Christchurch

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