21-October-2010. Screening for hearing problems within the first weeks of life benefits children, especially when interventions quickly follow the detection of any impairments, suggests a new study of more than a half million Dutch children.
Researchers analyzed outcomes of nearly 600,000 Dutch babies born between 2003 and 2005, comparing children born in regions in which newborn hearing screening had already become the norm to those born where distraction hearing screening, a behavioral test conducted around the age of 9 months, continued to be the standard.
Among children undergoing newborn screening, fewer than one (0.78) of every 1,000 were diagnosed with hearing loss. Similarly, 0.73 of every 1,000 babies were diagnosed using the distraction hearing test, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Compared to distraction screening (performed at around 9 months of age), the researchers found that newborn screening led to more spoken and fewer signed words, as well as better social and motor development at 3 to 5 years of age. These children also scored higher on measures of overall quality of life.
When hearing loss is found, many treatments can be implemented such as hearing aids, inner ear implants and speech and language development programs. Unfortunately, as the researchers note, not all detected hearing problems in the study were followed by early interventions. Further, passing newborn hearing screening does not exclude babies from developing hearing loss later in childhood.
The researcher concluded "Parents should take newborn hearing screening results seriously, If a child does not pass his newborn hearing screening, the child should be evaluated and tested by a specialist within the first few weeks of life. Children who pass their newborn hearing screening should have their hearing screened again if there is notable delay in speech or diminished response to sound".