There are no risks or side effects associated with hearing assessments.
Hearing tests are fast, painless, and noninvasive. They can be performed on children of any age. Newborns usually sleep through the test.
You should make sure your child’s ear is clear of wax a few days before the hearing test. You should also make sure your child is not exposed noise at least a day or two before the test.
If your child has an ear infection or a cold, their test may be rescheduled.
There are a few different hearing tests available for children and adolescents.
- Otoacoustic Emission (OAE) testing. Otoacoustic emission (OAE) testing is a way to test hearing in babies and children. It is one way newborn babies in Utah have their hearing tested. Testing involves placing a small probe in the ear canal. This is not painful. Sounds are played, and a response from the inner ear is measured. This test cannot determine the degree of hearing loss (mild, moderate, severe, or profound). There may be other reasons besides hearing loss that a baby does not pass the OAE test.
- Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) testing. When a person cannot participate in a behavioral hearing test, they may need to have an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test. This is especially helpful with infants and small children. Babies can have this test while they sleep. Sometimes a child will need medicine to sleep through the test so they are completely still. For ABR testing, sounds are delivered to the child’s ear. The test measures how the hearing nerve responds to these sounds and can be recorded for a certain frequency range (250Hz-4000 Hz).
- Behavioral testing in a sound booth. Both children and adults can have their hearing tested in a sound booth. Sometimes even babies can be tested in a sound booth. Older children and adults are tested in a sound booth with headphones or earphones. This hearing test measures how high the decibel level (loudness) needs to be for a person to hear each frequency (pitch or tone). The range of hearing typically tested in the sound booth is 250Hz-8000 Hz, the frequency range important for speech and language.
A speech-language pathologist will go over the results with you after your child’s hearing test.
A nurse or your child’s doctor will go over the results of your newborn’s hearing test.
Your child may have additional hearing assessments if it is suspected that they have hearing loss. Hearing loss may be mild or severe, and treatment will vary for each child.
- If your child can hear low frequencies normally, but not high frequencies, they can hear most of what people say. However, they may not hear high-frequency speech sounds like “sh,” “t,” and “f.” Without hearing aids, your child may not develop all the sounds of speech because they cannot hear them.
- If your child has mild or moderate hearing loss in all frequencies, a normal conversation may sound like a whisper.
- If your child has a severe or profound hearing loss in all frequencies, they may need hearing aids or a cochlear implant to hear a conversation.
Hearing develops early in fetal development. By 18 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus can hear sounds such as its mother’s heartbeat. Most babies don’t have hearing loss after birth. However, if your baby has a hearing problem, it is important to catch it early.
Hearing loss is a hidden disability in children. Often, hearing problems are not discovered until someone notices that the child is not talking normally. This may be after they are two years of age. About one in every 250 children has enough hearing loss so that it is hard for them to develop normal speech and language skills. This can affect their success in school and their social skills.
Hearing in children can change over time. Babies who were born early have a higher risk for hearing problems, as well as those who have:
- A family history of hearing loss
- Certain infections or conditions
- Taken certain medicines that can damage hearing
Hearing assessments are tools to help doctors detect hearing problems early. The first hearing test is usually performed shortly after birth. In many states, including Utah, all newborns are required to have a hearing test. This helps children with hearing loss get early and more effective care. Two tests are commonly used to screen for hearing problems in babies, the otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test and the auditory brainstem response (ABR) test. Your baby may have one or both of these tests.
These tests can also be used on older children. Older children can also have their hearing tested in a sound booth.
During a hearing assessment, an audiologist (a healthcare professional who tests and helps people with hearing loss) records your child’s ability to hear different frequencies or pitches with each ear. If a child hears sound at 20 decibels or less, hearing is normal. The audiogram is a record of the hearing test.