Earlier is Better to Catch Hearing Loss
When should your child's hearing be tested? Sooner than you think.
All states have laws or voluntary compliance programs requiring hearing tests in newborns,
usually before they leave the hospital. Every year, about 2% to 3% of babies are born
with hearing problems in the U.S.
For years, routine hearing tests took place only when children entered school. But
hearing loss can cause serious problems much earlier. And, hearing problems affect
the development of language and speech.
During the first 6 months, babies begin to recognize the spoken sounds that are critical
for developing language. Poor hearing can slow down that progress for both speaking
Consider having your child tested for hearing loss, especially if he or she has any
of the following risk factors:
More than 5 days in neonatal intensive care
History of severe jaundice requiring blood transfusion
Meningitis or history of brain injury that required hospitalization
Family history of childhood hearing loss
Family history of certain hereditary or congenital syndromes like neurofibromatosis, Down
syndrome, osteopetrosis, and Usher syndrome
Even without risk factors, parents should remain alert to hearing problems. You may
notice the following signs of hearing loss in your baby:
Does not notice loud noises
After 6 months, does not turn toward sounds
By 12 months, does not say single words
Does not turn head when called by name
In your young child, you may notice delayed speech development or unclear speech.
Recurrent ear infections, which are common in young children, can also delay language
development. A newborn can pass a hearing test and still develop hearing problems
later in childhood.
Hearing tests in infants
Your baby is likely to undergo one of these painless, quick, and sensitive tests:
Auditory brainstem responses. Sound is introduced to the baby's ears through tiny earphones while the baby is sleeping.
Using sensors attached to the baby's head, the test records electrical activity produced
by the auditory nerve and brainstem when it's stimulated by this sound.
Otoacoustic emissions (OAE). The normal ear makes faint acoustic signals, sometimes called inner-ear echoes. Although
people can't hear their own sounds from their inner ear, tiny, sensitive microphones
placed in the ear canal during the screening can measure the sounds. Infants who can't
hear create no emissions.
Hearing tests in children
Your child's healthcare provider may check your child's hearing with a simple device
called a tuning fork. Or your child may have tests from an audiologist or hearing
specialist. Tests include the two discussed above and:
Other hearing evaluation tests may include: