Hearing loss among most common birth defects

If you can’t hear, it’s very difficult to learn to communicate through speech. That’s why as part of our standard of care at Northside Hospital, we screen all babies for hearing loss before they go home.  Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects in the U.S.  About 12,000 children are born each year with permanent hearing loss. Out of 1,000 children, 3 are deaf or hard of hearing. Undetected hearing loss can lead to delays in speech and language development, social and emotional development, and negatively impact academic achievement.

Babies often sleep through their first hearing test. The screening tests are simple and painless and take only a few minutes. Our audiology program starts with providing newborn hearing screenings, but we provide follow up tests for infants and young children as they grow.  We also provide hearing evaluations, vestibular evaluations, hearing aids and auditory processing evaluation for school aged children and adults.

In the past, we had to wait until infants were six or seven months old to get an idea of what they could hear.  Children with hearing loss often went unidentified until they were 2 ½ or 3 years of age, until parents became concerned about their children not talking or interacting like other children.  This meant that their children were already behind.  Advancements in technology have allowed us to test babies a day or two after they are born.  

The primary technology we use to screen for hearing loss in infants is called Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs). The OAE device sends a soft sound into the ear through a small probe.  A microphone in the probe picks up energy that the ear creates in response to sound, and the device registers a “Pass” or a “Refer” based on the sound measured. Babies who don’t pass are seen for follow up testing.  

The earlier we can identify hearing loss, the fewer detrimental consequences for that child and for the family later on. If we find hearing loss early, children are not behind yet. We also know that hearing loss can develop after birth.  We work closely with pediatricians to identify late – onset hearing loss and to monitor speech and language development.  Maybe we can’t make it perfect, but with hearing aids and cochlear implants we can help alleviate some of those detrimental outcomes that we used to see.

Read more about Northside's Audiology Services.