Can my baby hear?

Can my baby hear? A legitimate question for every parent to ask. Fact of the matter is that permanent hearing loss is one of the most common abnormalities at birth. According to American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Newborn and Infant Hearing 1 to 3 per 1000 well babies have significant bilateral hearing loss. This figure is even higher when babies who have spend time in the neonatal intensive care units are included.

Can my baby hear?

Newborn hearing screening programs have had a worldwide impact. Identifying hearing loss as soon as possible after birth enables health care practitioners to intervene early. Whatever the treatment entails, whether it may be medical treatment, surgery, hearing aids or cochlear implantation(CI) the sooner it is commenced the better. CI has now been performed in babies of less than six months.

It is well known that there is a critical period for speech and language development in a child. This is highly dependent on hearing ability. A child with no hearing from birth will not develop speech and language. When hearing loss develops in the early years the speech development may stagnate and even regress. After the age of about 5 the brain permanently looses it’s ability to develop speech. Even if hearing is restored at this age it may be too late.

In South Africa neonatal screening entails that a test is done on every newborn baby a few days after birth. If such a service is not rendered at the institute where the baby is born it should at least be performed within 6 weeks at any available service point. Oto-acoustic emission (OAE) screenings are commonly used and measure activity by the cochlea of the inner ear. It is not painful or harmful to the baby. In high risk babies and those in neonatal intensive care units it is advised to perform auditory brainstem response (ABR) screenings, which gives more information on auditory nerve conduction. An audiologist will be able to guide you in this process. Make sure to request this screening test from your doctor or paediatrician.

Best practice guidelines for newborn and infant hearing screening in South Africa.