May 22, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions about Neonatal Hearing Screening

Dr. Jennie Jariwala-Kapadia (Audiologist & Founder-ListenIndia.in)

1. Why should my child undergo a Neonatal Hearing screening test?

On average 4/1000 babies born in India have some degree of hearing loss at birth. This number usually is much higher in babies who required NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) care.

There are no clear indicators of hearing problems in newborn babies, in addition to this, more than 90% of babies with hearing loss are born to normal hearing parents so parents may not be able to tell if their baby has difficultly hearing.

Language learning starts in the first few months of life and is largely dependent on hearing. If hearing loss is not detected and treated early, it can poorly affect speech, language, and cognitive development. Over time, such a delay can present severe learning difficulties and negatively impact the child’s academic performance. On the other hand, if babies born with hearing loss are identified early and provided with treatment as soon as possible they have the opportunity to develop healthy speech, language, and cognitive skills just like their peers.

2. When should the hearing screening be done?

The guideline used for newborn hearing screening in the USA is 1-3-6, that is, screen newborn before 1-month of age, confirm the diagnosis of hearing loss and fit hearing aid before 3 months, and enroll the child for early intervention before 6 months of age. A similar guideline needs to be followed in India by screening every baby delivered in a birthing facility before discharging the mother and child

3. What does the hearing screening for a baby look like? Is the test painful?

Two different types of tests are used to screen the hearing of an infant.

Depending on the test used either an earphone or a probe is used to play sounds in the baby’s ear canal and the response is measured in terms of a “pass” or a “refer”. “Pass” means that the baby does not have a hearing loss at the time of testing, however, a “refer” means that further testing is required to diagnose the presence of a hearing loss.

These tests may be used in combination or independently depending on the birthing facility and the birth history of your child. Both these tests are painless and take only a few minutes to test.

4. What if my baby does not pass the newborn hearing screening test?

If your baby does not pass the hearing screening at birth, it does not automatically mean that your child has a hearing loss. Sometimes the presence of vernix (a waxy white substance found coating the skin of newborn babies) in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear, excessive baby movement, or crying can get in the way of testing. However, if the baby does not pass on a repeat test, he/she will need further diagnostic testing. In addition to your pediatrician and audiologist, your baby will need to be seen by a pediatric otolaryngologist.

5. If my baby passes the newborn hearing screening, does it mean he or she will not have hearing loss later?

Not necessarily, some babies may develop hearing loss later in life. Causes of late-onset or progressive hearing loss in children can include genetic factors, frequent ear infections, infections like measles or meningitis, a head injury, and exposure to damaging levels of loud noises.

Even if your baby passed the newborn hearing screening at birth, you should still watch for possible signs of hearing loss as your child grows. Talk with your pediatrician if your child:

· Don't startle at loud noises by 1 month or turn toward sounds by 3-4 months of age.

· Doesn't seem to enjoy being read to.

· Is slow to begin talking, hard to understand, or doesn't say single words such as "dada" or "mama" by 12 to 15 months of age.

· Doesn’t turn when you call their name.

At present less than 40% of the birthing facilities in India are screening babies for hearing loss. This means that a significant number of babies are at risk of not being diagnosed until it is too late to develop speech and language skills.

Remember timing is everything. Studies have shown that babies who are diagnosed with a hearing loss before 3 months of age and provided with the right intervention services (like hearing aids and cochlear implant) within a month of being diagnosed have better chances of developing good speech and language skills on par with that of their hearing peers.

For more information please visit the website www.ListenIndia.in

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