The newborn hearing screening test helps to identify babies who have permanent hearing loss as early as possible. This means parents can get the support and advice they need right from the start.
One to two babies in every 1,000 are born with permanent hearing loss in one or both ears.
This increases to about 1 in every 100 babies who have spent more than 48 hours in intensive care. Most of these babies are born into families with no history of permanent hearing loss.
Permanent hearing loss can significantly affect a baby's development. Finding out early can give these babies a better chance of developing language, speech, and communication skills. It will also help babies make the most of relationships with their family or carers from an early age.
When is the newborn hearing test done?
If you give birth in hospital, you may be offered a newborn hearing test for your baby before you are discharged. In some areas it will be done by a health professional, healthcare assistant or health visitor within the first few weeks.
You will be contacted by your local newborn hearing screening service to arrange a suitable time and venue.
Ideally, the test is done in the first four to five weeks, but it can be done at up to three months of age.
If you are not offered a screening test, ask your health visitor, local audiology department or GP to arrange an appointment, or contact your local newborn hearing screening service.
How is the newborn hearing test done?
The test is called the automated otoacoustic emission (AOAE) test. It takes just a few minutes. A small soft-tipped earpiece is placed in your baby's ear and gentle clicking sounds are played. When an ear receives sound, the inner part (called the cochlea) responds. This can be picked up by the screening equipment.
It's not always possible to get clear responses from the first test. This happens with a lot of babies, and does not always mean your baby has a permanent hearing loss. It could mean:
- your baby was unsettled when the test was done
- there was background noise
- your baby has fluid or a temporary blockage in their ear
In these cases your baby will be offered a second test. This may be the same as the first test, or another type called the automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) test.
The AABR test involves placing three small sensors on your baby's head and neck. Soft headphones are placed over your baby's ears and gentle clicking sounds are played. This test takes between 5 and 15 minutes.
These tests will not harm your baby in any way.
Does my baby have to have the newborn hearing test?
It's highly recommended, but you don't have to accept it. If you decide not to have the screening test, you will be given checklists to help you check on your baby's hearing as they grow older. If you have any concerns, you should speak to your health visitor or GP.
When will we get the results?
You will be given your baby's hearing test results as soon as the test is done. If your baby has a clear response in both ears, they are unlikely to have permanent hearing loss.
However, the newborn hearing test doesn't pick up all types of permanent hearing loss. Children can also develop permanent hearing loss later on, so it's important to check your child's hearing as they grow up. The checklist in your baby's personal child health record (red book) tells you how to do this.
You can also download two checklists: one that tells you what sounds your baby should make, and another that tells you what sort of sounds your baby should react to.
If you have any concerns about your child's hearing, tell your health visitor or GP.
What does it mean if my baby is referred to a hearing specialist?
If the screening test results do not show a clear response from one or both of your baby's ears, an appointment will be made with a hearing specialist at an audiology clinic. Even if this happens, it doesn't necessarily mean your baby has a permanent hearing loss.
A hearing specialist should see you within four weeks of your baby's hearing test. It's very important that you attend the appointment in case your baby does have permanent hearing loss.
The appointment will usually take about one to two hours. This includes time to settle your baby. If possible, feed your baby shortly before the hearing test. Make sure you have the things you may need to keep them comfortable and happy.
The tests will not hurt or be uncomfortable for your baby, and you will be able to stay with your baby while the tests are done. You may want to take your partner or a friend or relative with you to the appointment.
The tests look similar to those used for your baby's screening tests, but give more detailed information about your baby's hearing.
Your audiologist will usually be able to explain the results at the end of the appointment. They will explain what the results mean for your baby's hearing and whether any further tests are necessary.
What does it mean if my baby has permanent hearing loss?
Types and levels of permanent hearing loss vary. Each baby's hearing loss will be different. There is a range of support and information available, including leaflets on the different types of hearing loss:
You can also contact the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) freephone helpline on 0808 800 8880 (voice and text).