In my last post, I talked about otoacoustic emissions – sounds emitted by the ear which give an indication of ear health. Because they are quick, reliable and do not require a baby to do anything, otoacoustic emissions have allowed us to screen the hearing of newborn babies.
Hearing loss is one of the most common disorders of newborns. From 1 to 3 of every 1000 babies born will have hearing loss. Good hearing is necessary for the normal development of speech and language.
The BC Early Hearing Program was introduced in 2005. The goal is to screen the hearing of every baby born in BC within the first month of their life, diagnose hearing loss by the age of 3 months and have interventions put in place by the age of 6 months. Research shows that when we have supports in place by the age of 6 months, children with hearing loss have skills similar to normal hearing children by the time they start kindergarten.
A hearing screening is typically performed by a technician in the hospital. If a baby does not pass the screening, they come to see a paediatric Audiologist who is able to diagnose hearing loss by performing an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test. During an ABR, sounds of varying pitch are introduced to the baby in a quiet environment while they are sleeping. The brain response is recorded using small sensors attached to the scalp. Using this method, we can accurately diagnose both the degree and type of hearing loss and, if needed, appropriately fit a hearing aid based on this information. The BC Early Hearing Program provides supports (including hearing aids) to children up to the age of 5.
Technology continues to advance the profession of audiology. In my next post, I’ll introduce an example of how it has transformed the art of fitting hearing instruments to the adult population.