Babies can tell us a lot of things with their cries, such as when they’re hungry, tired, wet, or cold. What they can’t tell us, however, is when they can’t hear at a “normal” level. A newborn hearing screening is a way to identify hearing loss and start the process early with potentially useful treatments.

You might know that a hearing screening for newborns is standard care in most hospitals and is a state mandate in many states, but do you know why?

Having a newborn is tough. When you’re a new parent who is concerned about your baby’s health, it can feel even tougher. In my many years of practice, I’ve worked with countless parents as they navigate hearing care for their newborns. It’s a time with a lot of questions and a lot of confusion, plus a lot of worry about the “what ifs.” My job as a hearing care specialist is to answer these questions as best as I can, and it all starts with the insight gleaned from a newborn hearing test.

Below, I’ll be sharing what a newborn hearing screening entails, including what it can tell you about your baby’s health and development.

What is a Newborn Hearing Screening?

A newborn hearing screening is a quick, easy, and non-invasive way to identify potential hearing concerns in babies. It can help inform both provider and parents on if additional testing or early hearing interventions are needed. Hearing screenings for newborns are a standard of care in most hospitals across the country, and many states have mandates to perform screenings prior to the infants leaving the hospital.

Newborn hearing screenings are performed in one of two ways: Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs) or Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR).

  • With OAEs, tiny earbuds measure how well auditory inputs echo in the inner ear canal. A strong, clear echo signifies normal or near-normal hearing, while a reduced echo or no echo is a sign of possible hearing loss.
  • AABR tests use sticker electrodes placed on the newborn’s head to measure the neural response to sounds. In newborns with healthy hearing, a measurable response will occur in the brainstem.

Babies who do not pass the screening will be referred for further evaluation. Some babies in this group go on to pass subsequent tests, while others will eventually require some sort of hearing treatment.

Importance of a Newborn Hearing Screening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all babies undergo a hearing screening by one month of age, and ideally as part of routine newborn care in the hospital.

In the majority of cases, babies with hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing. A newborn hearing screening evens the playing field and ensures everyone gets their hearing evaluated, regardless of family history or high-risk conditions.

As a healthcare provider, I know that parents want to do the best for their babies. These screenings shine a light on an otherwise invisible issue and put parents on the path to addressing hearing loss at an early age – a must for a child’s speech and language development.

What Happens After a Newborn Hearing Screening?

Hearing loss affects about three to six newborns out of 1,000. For these babies, a lack of proper intervention could lead to serious delays in speech and language development since children must be able to hear spoken language to learn it.

When newborns do not pass the hearing screening, they are referred for follow-up testing with a hearing care specialist. We like to see babies within a few days or weeks of the initial test since early interventions can make all the difference.

At this stage, the best thing you can do as a parent is to breathe and take things step by step. Hearing differences are not a sign that something is “wrong” with your baby. Nor do they mean your newborn won’t grow into a healthy, happy child and adult. By addressing potential hearing loss early, we can work together to identify root causes and ensure your child has the right level of support at home, at school, and within the healthcare system.

For our pediatric patients, we use additional testing to measure your child’s hearing abilities and pinpoint any therapies or resources that will be helpful for them. This includes medical interventions, as well as educational services to address potential language delays. In some cases, we may also partner with a pediatric otolaryngologist (a specialist of the inner ear) and/or a geneticist to meet your child’s unique needs.

You can’t always prevent hearing loss, but you can prevent some of its impact on the developing brain. A hearing screening for newborns is a first line of defense in doing so, with the most significant impact occurring for children who receive hearing loss services prior to six months of age.

Ongoing Hearing Tests for Babies and Kids

Babies who pass a newborn hearing test may still develop hearing loss later. As such, we recommend ongoing hearing evaluations by age, with targeted testing between 6-30 months, preschool, and elementary school, plus tests throughout the pre-teen and teen years.

Regular evaluations help further mitigate the risk of hearing-related developmental delays. Beyond the standard testing timeline, your family’s pediatrician may recommend a hearing screening if you have expressed concern about your child’s hearing or if they are otherwise at risk of late-onset or progressive hearing loss.

As for the types of hearing tests that are performed, the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) has different hearing screening recommendations for different age groups. We’ll work with you to ensure you get all the information on the different types of pediatric screenings and when they are performed, so you know what to expect as your child gets older.

Qualified Pediatric Hearing Testing and Treatment

A newborn hearing screening is just the first step in making sure your child gets the hearing support services they need. We recommend following all AAA and CDC guidelines in regard to screenings, plus any advice given by your newborn’s assigned audiologist at the hospital.

If your child needs further testing or interventions, our family-centered team at Finger Lakes Hearing is here to help. We offer pediatric hearing testing, diagnostics, and treatments at our practice locations in Geneva, Canandaigua, and Auburn, New York. We are committed to helping you ensure your child has all the resources they need for lifelong hearing success, including referrals to prop.

Routine screenings are a key part of protecting your child’s hearing and development. Explore for more information on hearing loss prevention, and search their certified provider network to find a hearing care professional near you.

About the author.
Dr. Megan Glaspie, Au.D.

Finger Lakes Hearing Center – Geneva, NY - Canandaigua, NY - Auburn, NY

Dr. Megan Glaspie earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and her Master of Medical Management from the University of Rochester. In 2012, she and her husband, Dr. Todd Harry, acquired Finger Lakes Hearing Center and have treated patients with the utmost care, employing best practices at an expert level ever since. A fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and a licensed audiologist and hearing aid dispenser in the state of New York, she holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In her free time, Dr. Glaspie enjoys music, cooking, reading, and spending time with friends and family, especially her two children, Rhys and Eve. All three of Dr. Glaspie’s practice locations are certified, further showcasing her expertise and commitment to excellence in the field of hearing care. Learn more about Dr. Glaspie and Finger Lakes Hearing Center: Geneva, NY; Auburn, NY; and Canandaigua, NY.

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