Medical Definition of Newborn hearing screen

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Newborn hearing screen: Testing of the newborn baby's ability to hear. Newborn screening of hearing is done with automated auditory brainstem response tests or, less often, with what are called otoacoustic emission or conventional auditory brainstem response tests. The aim is to detect those babies with hearing deficits and teach them sign language in infancy or give them hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The general purpose of all newborn screening tests is to detect treatable diseases. Most of these disorders are genetic (inherited). Which screening tests should be done is decided in the U.S. on a state-by-state basis. The most common screening tests now include those for hypothyroidism (underactivity of the thyroid gland), PKU (phenylketonuria), galactosemia, and sickle cell disease. Only a handful of states in the U.S. mandate newborn hearing screening and only about 15% of all newborns were tested for their hearing in the hospital where they were born.

The overall rate of hearing loss found in one study in the U.S. was about 1 in 330 newborns. The frequency of congenital hearing loss (hearing loss at birth) was 260 per 100,000 births. This is a much higher incidence than for other conditions that are routinely screened in newborns.



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