Newborn hearing screenings and early intervention

May 13, 2016
Some newborns pass their hearing screenings just fine but also have risk factors for developing hearing loss. In these cases, it’s important for an infant to be seen by an audiologist for a diagnostic hearing evaluation. Catching a hearing problem in infancy could keep a child on track to reach important developmental milestones.
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When is a baby at risk for hearing loss?

Newborns could develop hearing loss if they:
  • Have an immediate family member with permanent childhood hearing loss
  • Are exposed to certain infections before, during or after birth that are associated with hearing loss
  • Develop a differently shaped head, ears or face, including cleft lip or palate, and ear pits or tags
  • Have a family history of syndromes associated with hearing loss
  • Are given, for an extended time, medications that can cause hearing loss
  • Need mechanical ventilation for an extended time and/or spend more than five days in a neonatal intensive care unit
  • Are born with a low birth weight, defined as below 3 pounds, 3 ounces
  • Have a blood transfusion due to severe jaundice
  • Have low APGAR scores, defined as 0 to 4 one minute after birth or 0 to 6 five minutes after birth
  • Have extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or heart-lung bypass
  • Suffer head trauma

Why is hearing screening for newborns so important?

Babies who can’t hear well have difficulty developing speech and language. Studies show that children who receive intervention services by the time they are 6 months old have the best chance of developing good speech and language skills. 

An audiologist can use a diagnostic hearing evaluation to determine the best way to help a child. Early intervention could include the use of sign language, hearing aids and therapy to encourage the development of language and speech.

Hearing, speech and language milestones

It’s important to monitor a baby’s hearing and speech-language development. Here’s what to look for in the first year of a child’s life.

Birth to 3 months

  • Startles to loud sounds
  • Recognizes your voice and calms or smiles when you speak
  • Makes sounds like “ohh” and “ahh” or coos
  • Cries differently for different needs and wants

3 to 6 months

  • Looks in the direction of sounds
  • Attends to music and sound-making toys
  • Babbles with more speech-like sounds such as “p” and “m”
  • Laughs or vocalizes excitement or dislike

7 months to 1

  • Enjoys interactive games such as peek-a-boo
  • Turns and looks toward a sound
  • Listens while you talk
  • Recognizes everyday words and commands such as “cup,” “milk” and “come here”
  • Uses hand gestures to communicate
  • Uses one to two words around first birthday

Pediatric audiology

At Swedish, a variety of audiology services for children are available:

  • Newborn screenings
  • Evaluation of the different parts of the ear
  • Auditory brainstem response testing for infants
  • Play testing for infants and children

If a child does have hearing loss, the Swedish audiology team can help with amplification devices. Options could include: 

  • Hearing aids
  • Bone-anchored hearing devices
  • Cochlear implants
  • Assistive listening devices

Our audiologists also can help families with referrals for medical evaluation of hearing loss and early intervention services.

In addition to the pediatric audiology services available at Cherry Hill, Ballard, First Hill and Issaquah, the Swedish Neuroscience Institute is home to the Auditory Research Laboratory. The ARL develops best clinical practices for the audiology team and will be expanding its research to include children.

If you have questions about hearing screenings for newborns or Swedish pediatric audiology services, please contact the Swedish Newborn Hearing Services Line at 206-320-8242.