Tests for hearing loss in babies & children

What is the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme?

It’s a programme that automatically offers all parents in England the opportunity to have their baby’s hearing tested within the first 26 days of life. As hearing is crucial to the  development of speech and language skills, it’s vital to diagnose a hearing impairment as early as possible[1] .  

Research shows that a deaf child can develop language at the same rate as any other child if deafness is identified by the age of six months and a good early intervention and support programme is provided.  There are equivalent programmes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

How many babies are affected?

Around one child in 900 is born with a hearing loss in one or both ears, increasing to about one in 100 for babies who  have spent more than 48 hours in intensive care. Most babies born with a hearing loss have no family history of hearing problems so it’s important to screen all babies[2] .

For information and support on hearing tests and diagnosis, contact the National Deaf Children’s Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880.

The Automated Otoacoustic Emission test

This first screening test is carried out on the maternity ward, at home, or in a clinical setting. A trained hearing  screener or your health visitor will place a small, soft-tipped earpiece in the  outer part of your baby’s ear. Clicking sounds are made in the ear and if  everything is working fine, there should be a response in the cochlea, a spiral-shaped  tube in the inner ear. The screening equipment will pick up the response.

The test is pain-free, takes just a few minutes, and will usually be done while your baby is asleep or settled. You should get the results right away. If the test shows a clear response from both of your baby’s ears, it’s unlikely that they have a hearing loss.

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[1]  Wood SA Performance and characteristics of the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme in England: The first seven years; Int J Audiol. 2015 Jun 3; 54(6): 353–358

[2] http://hearing.screening.nhs.uk/public Accessed 17 June 2015