Baby Hearing Tests Don’t Predict Future

Hearing loss still a possibility in newborns that pass hearing tests

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Parents are relieved when their babies pass their first hearing tests. But new research suggests they should take these results with a grain of salt.

Researchers looked at health records for 923 children that passed their newborn hearing test to see if any later developed hearing problems.

The study found that 78 of those children had some form of hearing loss later in their childhoods.

The researchers recommended that caretakers and doctors should stay alert for hearing issues as babies grow, even if they passed their newborn hearing tests.

"Consult a pediatrician if you think your child has hearing problems."

Kavita Dedhia, MD, of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and colleagues wanted to find out how and when hearing loss developed for the children who had passed the universal newborn hearing screening.

The universal newborn hearing screening, or UNHS, is a hearing test that doctors perform on newborn babies before they leave the hospital.

For their study, the researchers examined the records of 923 children that had been born at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh between 2001 and 2011.

Of these 923 children, the researchers found 78 that had passed their UNHS before they left the hospital but were later diagnosed with hearing loss.

First, the researchers looked through their records to find out when and how the children had been diagnosed with hearing loss.

The children were diagnosed any time from 1 month to 10 years old, with the average age of diagnosis at 4 years and 6 months.  

Parents or other caretakers first noticed the hearing loss for 28 of the children. A total of 25 children were diagnosed with hearing loss when they failed hearing tests done at their school.

Only nine of the participants’ hearing loss was identified through screening tests at their doctors’ office. The final 13 children were identified because they started talking later than their peers.

Next, the researchers also examined the records to see what type of hearing loss the children had experienced and what might have caused it.

Fifty-four percent of the participants lost hearing in both ears at the same levels while 21 percent lost hearing in both ears but at different levels.

The remaining 26 percent only lost hearing in one ear.

Many of the children (33 percent) had profound hearing loss while 32 percent had mild levels of hearing loss.

Sixteen of the children (21 percent) had moderate hearing loss and the remaining 14 percent had severe hearing loss.

Finally, the researchers looked at what caused the children to lose their hearing.

Genetics played a role in hearing loss for 13 of the children. Two children had syndromes that caused their hearing loss.

Researchers found that 11 of the children had irregular ear structures that were responsible for their hearing loss.

Nine children had hearing loss caused by events that happened around the time of birth, such as being born prematurely, having a condition which required a stay in the intensive care unit or infections.

There was no identifiable cause for deafness in 42 (54 percent) of the children.

Michael Haupert, DO, chief of Otolaryngology, DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan said, "This study not only reinforces the importance of routine hearing screening of all children throughout childhood but also reiterates the prudent use of hearing tests for all children when there is parental concern about a possible hearing loss or speech and language developmental delay.  This study also highlighted the need to remember that children can have a delayed onset of hearing loss of various degrees and the need for possible intervention."

The study’s findings led authors to recommend that caretakers pay attention to children’s hearing abilities even if they have passed their newborn screening test.

“Because the UNHS has been seen as a highly effective screening tool, patients with hearing loss despite passing may be overlooked,” the authors wrote.

"A parent or a physician may think, ‘Oh, this child had passed the screen, so they must not have hearing loss,'" study co-author David Chi, MD, told Reuters Health.

"Don't depend on just the fact that [your child] passed the screen, especially if there are any concerns about hearing loss or speech concerns," he said.

The study was published January 17 in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 27, 2013
Last Updated:
March 26, 2013