Having hearing loss at any age is significant; but it is especially significant in babies. About 3 in 1000 babies in the United States are born with hearing loss. Babies who experience hearing loss are not able to explain what they are going through.
During the 1970s in Colorado, there was a movement to begin a state-wide intervention program for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Colorado Home Intervention Program. It started off with only 10 families. The requirements for entrance were to be a family living in a rural or mountain area, and on Medicaid or have very low income. Eventually the program grew and was shown to be a success in this population. In 1992, the newborn hearing screening program started. This program required babies to have a hearing test prior to being discharged from the hospital.
Babies are not able to raise their hands when they hear the tone, like we are able to during a hearing test. Two types of tests used in this population are Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) and Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs). These give indication of a baby’s hearing abilities. Babies who pass one of the two tests are discharged from the hospital without any concern about their hearing ability. Babies who pass, but are still deemed at-risk for hearing loss, are discharged from the hospital but asked to receive a follow up hearing test. Lastly, babies who fail the test, are able to be discharged from the hospital but are fully recommended to have a retest within a few days to confirm or deny the results. The at-risk factors list includes:
- Family history of early, progressive, or delayed onset permanent childhood hearing loss
- NICU stay of more than 5 days
- Hyperbilirubinemia with exchange transfusion regardless of length of stay
- Aminoglycoside administration for more than 5 days
- Asphyxia or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygen (ECMO)
- In utero infections- CMV, herpes, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis
- Certain birth findings: craniofacial malformations, congenital microcephaly or hydrocephalus, temporal bone abnormalities
- Bacterial and viral infections associated with hearing loss like meningitis or encephalitis
- Head trauma
- Caregiver concern
If a child is flagged for hearing loss, they are required to follow EDHI protocol. The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (EHDI) was founded in 2000. The process of EHDI is “infants not passing the screening receive diagnostic evaluation before three months of age and, when necessary, are enrolled in early intervention programs by six months of age” (ASHA.org); also known as the 1-3-6 Rule.
Identifying a baby with hearing loss is important, but it is equally as important to know what to do next. If you or a loved one are having ear or hearing difficulty, please contact your local audiologist or hearing care professional today!