While hearing loss may seem like a condition that only affects those in their golden years, it can develop at any time. Louisville experts agree that nearly three of every one thousand babies are born with some form of hearing loss. Unfortunately, many of these cases are not discovered until the child is at least two years old.
The first two years of a child’s life are extremely important to their physical development as well as forming emotional intelligence, learning and communication skills. Because of this, babies with undetected (and therefore, untreated) hearing loss can experience major developmental setbacks.
Newborn Hearing Loss
Detecting newborn hearing loss is difficult, which is why many cases go undiagnosed until the child reaches talking age. Often, the only way to identify and treat a hearing loss problem in a timely manner is to take your baby to a Louisville audiologist for an infant hearing screening.
Newborn Hearing Tests
There are three tests commonly used to test a newborn’s hearing.
Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) measures the response of a baby’s hearing nerve using electrodes.
An auditory brainstem response (ABR) provides the audiologist with information on a child’s inner ear and the neuronal pathway that connects the ear to the brain. Electrodes are placed on the child’s head to record brain activity in response to sounds. This is a subjective test, which makes it good for measuring hearing loss in children.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) testing uses a microphone and earphone to calculate an infant’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. This test is objective, making it is a useful addition to newborn hearing screenings.
When testing middle ear function in infants and young children, Louisville audiologists typically rely on either tympanometry or acoustic reflex testing.
Tympanometry is a test of the middle ear used to detect fluid, wax buildup, eardrum perforations and tumors. It measures movement of the eardrum in response to air pressure; the results are recorded on a chart called a tympanogram.
The acoustic reflex test measures involuntary muscle contractions of the middle ear, and is used to determine the location of your hearing problem (the ossicles, cochlea, auditory nerve, etc.) as well as the type of hearing loss.
These tests are usually performed within a few hours of birth. Statistics show that between 2–10 percent of infant hearing tests indicate hearing loss, while only 0.003 percent of infants actually suffer from a condition that causes permanent hearing impairment. Rather than a diagnosis, these tests are administered in order to help parents identify a potential problem as early as possible, promoting the prevention of developmental disorders.
Proper follow-up is key. If your child’s tests indicate they may have hearing loss, make sure you schedule an appointment with a Louisville audiologist as soon as possible. They will perform more extensive testing; this information is crucial to the creation of a customized treatment plan.
For more information on how to get started, contact your Louisville audiologist today.