SELECTED ARTICLE
Author
Eugenia Steinfeldt 
Article Title
Can Your Baby Hear Well - Find Out By Using This Simple Hearing Test 
Posted Date
6/9/2010 
 

I was able to watch recently as a sleeping 36-hour-old baby boy was given a hearing test. I stood witness to this while the female audiologist took Sean's bassinet upstairs to a normal-looking computer with strange cables hooked up to it. She then took one of the wires which had a small plastic probe attached to the end of it and placed it in Sean's right ear, after which she entered some information into the computer.

The computer monitor revealed a complex display of multi-colored graphics. The procedure that Sean was so oblivious to was one that can detect hearing loss at a very early age and help hearing impaired children and their parents learn to face the challenges ahead. There are around 4000 babies each year who are born deaf, then there are another 24,000 born who suffer some kind of hearing loss.

The procedure that I observed was the OAE test that is used very soon after birth to detect hearing problems. An existing hearing problem has commonly gone undetected until children have reached the age of 2 or 3 before it has been realized by their parents or doctors. This can lead to tragic results for the child.

There are delays in speech and language development. Children suffering from hearing loss often start speaking long after their peers, and they often seem separate from their environment in a way that kids with normal hearing are not.

The first two years are critical in the development of intelligence and emotions. In certain instances, an erroneous diagnosis of mental inadequacy is made for a child who has hearing loss. Prior to the birth of OAE in 1990, the evaluation phase for each child was very expensive and complicated.

The auditory brain stem response was a highly precise test, according to one audiologist. The process consisted of attaching electrodes to the baby in order to measure the auditory nerve's activity. The complicated ABR test is very accurate but it takes a half hour, costs ninety dollars or more, and a physician or audiologist must administer the test.

There are not enough medical professionals in the U.S., to administer this test for each newborn. On the other hand, OAE is relatively affordable and never calls for a full-time practicing audiologist's assistance. n the course of around five minutes, this test measures hair cell vibrations along the cochlea as they experience exposure to auditory stimuli. A transmitter delivers sound into the ear of the infant, and a highly sensitive microphone listens for the sounds that these hairs make as they respond to this sound. This test is conducted for both ears, with the audiologists gently turning Sean to his other side to access the other side of his head. In this case, the baby had normal hearing.

When the first test is not passed, another test is scheduled for the following week. Fluid in the ear canal just after birth, is a common occurrence, and may lead to a bad test result. If the second test indicates the same results, then an auditory brain stem response test is done to find the exact cause. Possible courses of action are then discussed between the baby's parents, pediatrician, and audiologist. If the hearing loss is minor, hearing aids can be provided at three months of age. In some cases, that will solve the problem and the baby will be able to hear normally.

By a year-and-a-half, the child can receive a cochlear implant, which is a surgical procedure which can help to correct hearing deficiencies for their entire life. For those cases where the hearing loss is more severe, parents must spend more time with the infant and use visual cues when teaching the baby about the surrounding environment. This type of rigorous attention has been shown to help the babies develop at a normal intellectual rate in most cases.

When faced with raising a deaf child parents have a variety of styles to consider, each with there own positive points, among these are lip-reading, cued speech, hearing aids, and American Sign Language.

References
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