Infants and children can have temporary or permanent hearing loss that may vary from slight to profound in its severity. Early diagnosis is important because if a child cannot hear properly, this can affect learning, concentration and communication. For this reason, a newborn hearing test is offered to all babies within the first month of life.
Hearing test for infants
The test used to screen newborns for hearing loss is called an Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (aABR) screening test.
- The aABR screen test is used for all babies.
- The test measures whether your baby's ears are responding to sounds, and whether their brain is responding to that sound.
- Babies who do not pass the first screen have a second aABR screen before being referred to an audiologist (a healthcare professional who specialises in hearing) for diagnosis.
What happens during the test?
- Small sensors are placed on your baby's forehead, and below and above their ear.
- A cushioned ear piece is placed over one ear at a time and a chirping sound is played through this.
- The sensors on your baby's head pick up the response from your baby's hearing nerve.
- A computer measures the response and provides a result.
- The test takes about 15 to 20 minutes and will not cause your baby any pain.
- A second test will be offered if the results from the first test are unclear.
Why is it done?
Being able to hear clearly is important for the development of speech. The sooner any hearing problem is picked up in a baby or child, the sooner you can get treatment for any correctable hearing problem and your child is able to learn to speak.
This screening programme started in New Zealand in 2007 after similar programmes overseas showed strong benefits.
Who is it for?
Most babies are screened before they leave hospital for the first time. If this doesn’t happen, you should ask your midwife or family doctor to help organise your baby to be screened. Ideally, this should be done before your baby is a month old.
In New Zealand, the programme is provided free of charge for eligible babies.
Are there any risks?
There are no risks to your baby with this test.
Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme National Screening Unit, NZ, 2014