For children, the earlier their hearing loss is identified the better. Most states require newborn babies to be screened for hearing loss; some have high-risk registry that identifies children who may be prone to congenital or progressive hearing loss.
If it has been determined that your child is at risk or if their infant hearing screening comes back with irregular results, your hospital physician will recommend an infant hearing evaluation. It is important to schedule this evaluation as soon as possible, as children begin learning language while in the womb. The longer their hearing loss goes untreated, the more at risk they are for major developmental setbacks.
Newborn Hearing Tests
Your otologist and audiologist at Heuser’s downtown Louisville hearing clinic may recommend one or all of these newborn hearing exams. Below is an overview of the tests your child may undergo during an infant hearing assessment:
Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
An ABR evaluation is frequently used with children and infants because it can be completed while the child is asleep or playing quietly and does not require any response. Electrodes are taped to the child’s ears and forehead to measure electrical activity from the auditory nerve to the brainstem. Sounds are then presented to the ears at various pitches and will measure the softest sounds the child can detect.
Once completed, ABR tests reveal the presence or absence of sound sensitivity, which can be used to predict or identify hearing loss. ABR evaluations should be scheduled at a time when your child is likely to be sleepy. Immediately prior to testing, a bottle may be given in order to help them sleep. While the test itself usually only takes 30 minutes, you should allow two hours for the entire procedure.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE)
Otoacoustic Emissions testing evaluates the function of the inner ear. The test uses a microphone and earphone to calculate your child’s hearing abilities by measuring the reflection of a sound’s echo as it passes through the ear canal. Otoacoustic emissions are the sounds given off by the inner ear when stimulated by sound.
This test is used to determine if there is damage to the hair cells that line the cochlea. Since the emissions are nearly inaudible, a small plug is placed into the ear in order to detect the ear’s reaction to a series of clicks.
The test can be performed while your child is awake as long as they are quiet and still. The procedure is painless and takes less than two minutes per ear. This test is typically paired with brainstem response evaluation or behavioral hearing assessment.
Frequency-Specific Tympanometry and Reflexes
This test is used to measure how well the middle ear functions, as it can identify if there is fluid or an infection in the middle part of your child’s ear. Reflex testing, in the presence of normal middle ear function, can help to confirm other test results.
The test is conducted while the child is either awake or asleep. A probe is placed into their ear while measurements are made. The test is painless and takes less than one minute per ear.
Infant Assessment FAQS
What Should We Bring to the Appointment?
Please bring a bottle and any other items (pacifier, blanket, etc.) that may help your child fall asleep or relax. If you are breastfeeding, feeding can take place in private or during testing, depending on your preference. Since the entire procedure may take one to two hours, please bring extra diapers and dress your child comfortably.
When Will We Get the Results?
The results of the tests will be explained immediately after testing is complete. While the results from most tests are conclusive, if they reveal your child may have hearing loss, additional tests may be needed. In rare cases, you may need to reschedule your appointment if your baby is unable to fall asleep and, depending upon your child’s tolerance, testing may be repeated with sedation.
Call Heuser Hearing Institute at (502) 584-3573 for more information or to schedule an appointment.