All children born in the UK have their hearing screened. Learn more about this process and about what is done if a hearing loss is identified.
Newborn hearing screening
This is usually done using the Automated Otoacoustic Emissions Test (AOAE). When the ear hears a sound, it produces a tiny corresponding sound, a sort of echo. This test involves sending gentle sounds into the baby's ear and measuring the 'echo'.
The test involves placing a small ear piece on the baby's outer ear.
The test is often done before the new-born baby leaves hospital, and only takes a few minutes.
If the test doesn't show a clear response, the baby will be referred for a second screening. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have a hearing loss: sometimes the conditions at the time of the screening aren't right - there may be fluid in the ear canal from birth, for example.
If the second AOAE doesn't show a clear response, the baby will be referred to a different test. This is called the Automated Auditory Braintstem Response Test (AABR). It is non-invasie and takes between five and thirty minutes. It can be performed whilst the baby is sleeping.
The AABR test measures the brain's activity in response to sound. Three small sensors are placed on the baby's head and neck, and headphones are placed on the baby's ears. A series of clicking sounds are then played and a computer records the brain's response.
If the baby doesn't have a clear response to the ABR test, they will be referred to an audiologist for further hearing tests.
Deafness Research UK supported the original laboratory research, the clinical studies that led to the development of this technology and funded the publication of the guidelines for hospitals to use the new test.
Learn more about the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme in England
What happens if the tests identify a hearing loss?
If a permanent hearing loss is identified, further tests may be able to identify the cause. Hearing aids or a cochlear implant may then be of use.
There are many health professionals who can support children with hearing loss, such as audiologists, teachers of the deaf, and speech and language therapists.
Sometimes a baby may be suspected to have a temporary hearing loss caused by a condition such as glue ear. In this case, the condition will probably improve without further intervention; but the baby's hearing will be monitored over this time to see if further action is required.
For more information, have a look at our factsheet on hearing tests for babies and young children.
If you have any unanswered questions, please get in touch with our Advisory Service.