All hospitals in the United States screen
for hearing loss. These simple very relatively quick screening tests are done in the nursery
usually before the babies are discharged home. We have two methods to test newborn hearing.
One is called otoacoustic emissions and the other is auditory brainstem response. The
OAE or otoacoustic emission, we put a small ear probe in the baby’s ear canal and then
play a sound and the ear sends back an echo. That test on a sleeping infant can take less
than a minute. We test each ear. It’s important to know how the hearing is in both ears. So
if the baby passes that test we wouldn’t necessarily recommend another test unless
there were certain what we call risk factors for developing hearing loss later in life.
For the ABR we actually put little electrodes on the head, usually one on the forehead and
one behind each ear. And then again we play a sound to the ear and we can measure the
response and we are measuring the response from these little electrodes.
Both newborn screening tests are completely painless. They are very safe to do on newborns.
They are relatively reliable, but they are a screening test. If the baby doesn’t pass
the newborn screening regardless of which method is used, we will want to do a more complete