Hearing Tests for Newborn Babies
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Hearing Tests for Newborn Babies

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Hearing loss in babies and small children can affect their ability to develop speech and social skills. About three in 1000 babies are born with a hearing problem. In order to diagnose and treat any hearing loss as early as possible, babies should undergo a hearing test a few weeks after they’re born. Here is what you need to know about hearing loss and testing in babies!

Most babies born in Australia have their hearing checked as part of the free, universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program. Early treatment is the key to minimising the effects of their hearing impairment. If you think that your child might be suffering from hearing loss, don’t hesitate to immediately contact your healthcare provider!

Why Screen For Hearing Loss So Early?

Hearing loss may not be noticeable in the first few weeks of life; a hearing test is therefore the first step to detecting and diagnosing hearing loss in babies. Before the screening program existed, a baby with hearing loss would often go undiagnosed until at least one year of age and sometimes up to three years of age. 

These first years of life are a critical period for speech and language development. Missing out on hearing speech during this time puts these children at a much higher risk of language, social, and academic difficulties later in life.

Early hearing tests and detection of a hearing loss means a child can start early intervention and be able to hear language as early as possible. It also gives babies with hearing loss the best start in life and provides families with advice and support right from the beginning. 

How Do You Know If Your Child Can Hear?

  • Newborns up to eight weeks of age: Startles or widens their eyes at sudden noises nearby, and is woken or stirred from sleep by the noise.
  • Eight weeks to four months: Looks towards the direction of the sound, and may quieten while listening.
  • Six to 12 months: Turns head towards known voices or sounds, and starts to babble.
  • 12 to 18 months: Knows the names of favourite toys, and begins to imitate simple words and sounds.
  • 18 to 24 months: Has a small vocabulary of single words, and can understand simple directions.
  • 2.5 to 3.5 years: Has clear speech with a good vocabulary.

child can hear

What Do You Need to Look Out For?

It is rare but still possible for babies to develop hearing loss after passing the newborn hearing screen. Sometimes hearing loss is progressive or develops as the child grows. You should take your child to a licensed audiologist to have their hearing tested in case of the following:

  • Your child has recurrent ear infections.
  • Speech and language are not developing at the rate expected. 
  • Your child is not startled by loud sounds.
  • Your baby doesn’t turn its head when you call their name.
  • You are concerned or worried about your child’s ability to hear.
  • You have a family history of permanent hearing loss.
  • Your baby was born prematurely (too early) or there were complications at birth.

Where Can You Go For Newborn Hearing Tests?

Attune Hearing audiologists can quickly identify whether your little one is experiencing hearing difficulty. Our audiologists are specially trained to test the hearing of newborn babies and toddlers. If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, even if they passed the newborn screening, you can ask your GP for a referral to your local Attune clinic. 

What Happens During a Newborn Hearing Test?

Your Attune audiologist will start by asking some general questions about your child’s health and development to gain a better understanding of their hearing capabilities and overall health. During the hearing screen, the audiologist will place sensors on your baby’s forehead and then play soft clicking sounds through ear cups to record the responses from your baby. The hearing test is painless and quick. Most babies will remain asleep throughout the screen.  

Your baby will normally be screened directly after birth. Babies who haven’t had their hearing test in a hospital will be followed up. A hearing screening isn’t compulsory, and you will be asked to sign a consent form to have your baby’s hearing screened. Your baby can have the hearing test while you are holding or breastfeeding your baby.  

The screener will advise you on the results of the screen right away and often show you an audiogram to explain the results. Occasionally, babies will need a second hearing test in order to achieve a clearer result. The results of the screen will be recorded in your baby’s Child Health Record book.

grandpa with baby

How Does Newborn Hearing Screening Work?

You may be wondering how does that newborn hearing screen work? Parents will often notice their baby is sound asleep and does not even move while they’re being screened. It is actually important that your baby is asleep and settled during the screen. Your baby can hear even while they’re sleeping.

The screening process involves playing lots of clicking sounds into each ear, one at a time. In a normally-hearing baby, the sound will pass through the baby’s ear and then be changed into a very tiny electrical signal as it travels along the hearing nerve to the brain. This tiny electrical signal is recorded by the sensor on your baby’s head. When that particular signal is recorded, the audiologist knows your baby can hear.  

If a baby is awake and unsettled, there will be lots of unwanted and large electrical signals detected. This will make it impossible to record the hearing response because it is a much smaller electrical signal and it will become swamped or hidden.

What If Your Baby Doesn’t Pass The Screening Test?

If your baby does not pass the screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re deaf or hearing impaired. A build-up of fluid in the ear, for example, can affect the test results. One way or another, you will be referred onto a paediatric audiologist for further hearing testing. 

Are you concerned about your baby’s hearing health? If you believe that your child may be experiencing hearing loss then it’s important to get their hearing tested right away! Attune is Australia’s leading hearing healthcare provider. Book a hearing test at your local Attune clinic today on 1300 736 702! 

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