Newborn Hearing Screening

Newborn Hearing Screening Program

Hearing loss is the most common medical problem for which screening is available at birth. Three children out of every 1,000 are born with hearing loss. If hearing loss goes untreated, it can delay speech, language, and cognitive, emotional and social development. Nova Scotia screens newborns before they leave the hospital. Identifying and treating hearing loss early can help a child’s development.

How are newborns tested?

Two tests are used in screening:

Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) - A small probe, placed in the newborn’s outer ear, sends out quiet sounds. We record an “echo” response from their inner ear. The computer estimates if the ear has detected the sound.

Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) - Small sensors are placed on the newborn’s head and neck to record the electrical activity from their skin. A small earphone sends out quiet clicking sounds. The computer measures the changes in the electrical activity to determine if the click has been detected. A response suggests that hearing is adequate to understand speech.

Both of these tests work best when newborns are sleeping, and usually don’t wake them.

Some newborns with normal hearing might not pass their first screening. Fluid or debris in their ear, background noise, restlessness or a poorly fitting probe can all cause poor results. If a newborn does not pass his/her first screening, another test will be arranged before he/she leaves the hospital. It is important to complete the screening in the child's first month.

Which newborns are “at risk” for hearing loss?

There are a number of reasons that a newborn might be “at risk” for hearing loss:

  • Family history of permanent childhood hearing loss
  • In utero infections - syphilis, toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes
  • Head or neck defects
  • Syndromes or conditions linked to hearing loss
  • Extended stay (longer than 48 hours) in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

What if my newborn misses his/her hearing test in hospital?

Parents of newborns who miss their first screening or follow-up should contact the Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centre in their community. Staff will arrange the proper screening tests and follow-up.

If my newborn passes his/her hearing test, will more testing be necessary?

Parents play a key role in spotting hearing loss in their child. Some children develop hearing losses later in life due to illness, accidents or infection. If you feel your child does not respond to sound, or has speech and language delays, they should have a hearing test.

Click here for a guide to hearing milestones.

What should I do if I am worried about my child’s hearing?

Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centres has an open referral policy whereby parents/caregivers, teachers, doctors and other professionals may refer a child for assessment. Referrals and questions may be directed to your local NSHSC site.