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What is Newborn Hearing Screening?


Newborns can be easily and cost-effectively screened for hearing impairment. Many states mandate that hospitals screen all children before they are discharged from the newborn nursery or within the first 3 months of life. In the past, the average age of diagnosis of hearing loss in infants and young children ranged from 14 months to around 3 years of age.[3] This delay in diagnosis is significant in terms of time lost during unique opportunities in brain development for language acquisition, spoken or signed.[4] To optimize this critical intensive period of language development, intervention must start as close to birth as possible, preferably before 6 months of age.

The NIH convened a Consensus Development Conference on the Early Identification of Hearing Impairment in Infants and Young Children in 1993.[4] The consensus panel recommended the use of objective, physiologic measures of hearing for all newborn infants before leaving the nursery or at least by 1 month of age. The panel also recommended that those infants who fail this first screening return for a comprehensive audiologic evaluation before 3 months of age and that intervention begin before 6 months of age for those with confirmed hearing impairment. The panel rejected use of routine clinical procedures (behavioral observation) as unreliable and judged universal newborn hearing screening to be superior to the practice of screening only infants identified through a high risk register, which identifies at best half of the infants with hearing loss. The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing Screening endorsed the goal of universal detection of infants with hearing loss and encouraged continuing research and development to improve methodologies for identification of and intervention for hearing loss in its 1994 Position Statement. Subsequent research has shown that infants with hearing loss who receive intervention before 6 months of age maintain language development, commensurate with cognitive ability, through 5 years of age.

The CDC Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program monitors universal newborn hearing screening implementation in collaboration with directors of speech and hearing programs in state health and welfare agencies. EHDI reports that a total of 49 percent of hospitals and birthing centers in 22 reporting states/areas screened their newborns for hearing impairment in 1999. The screening program has grown rapidly since then. The program increased to 52 reporting states/areas with a total of 73 percent of hospitals or birthing centers performing universal hearing screening by 2001.

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