Public Release: 

Infant hearing screening program detects hearing loss at significantly early age

Syracuse University

The New York State Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Demonstration Project--a pilot program to screen for hearing loss in all newborns--has identified hearing-impaired infants earlier, meaning that hearing aids and other interventions can begin at a significantly younger age, according to a series of reports in the April issue of Ear and Hearing, the official journal of the American Auditory Society.

Beth Prieve, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders in Syracuse University's School of Education, is the co-director of the project, co-author of the introduction and overview article in the journal, and principal author of the report on outpatient outcome measures. Prieve is a leading expert on auditory physiology and the diagnosis of hearing loss.

"Our project shows that universal newborn hearing screening programs are feasible and can help to meet national goals for early identification of and intervention for hearing impairment," Prieve says.

Seven leading regional perinatal centers throughout New York were selected for funding by the state's Early Intervention Program to develop screening programs for infant hearing loss, making this project the largest and most statistically representative study of universal newborn hearing screening ever undertaken, according to Prieve.

The perinatal centers taking part in the project were the Montefiore Medical Center's Jacobi Hospital and North Central Bronx Hospital; Babies' and Children's Hospital of New York/New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan; SUNY at Stony Brook Hospital; North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New Hyde Park; Albany Medical Center; Crouse Hospital in Syracuse; and Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. The project used physiological measures to screen newborns for possible hearing loss.

Approximately 70,000 infants were screened during the three-year project. Ninety-seven percent were screened before they were discharged from the hospital after birth. Based on the screening results, four percent of infants were referred for further testing and less than one percent for final diagnostic testing.

The programs identified 85 infants with hearing loss. The rate of hearing loss was about nine times higher for babies who were treated in the newborn intensive care unit after birth than among those managed in the well-baby nursery.

Most important, screening appeared to lower the age at which hearing loss was detected and intervention begun. The median age at detection was three months, compared with one or two years in previous studies where universal newborn screening was not in place.

The hearing-impaired babies were fitted with hearing aids at a median age of 7.5 months. Early intervention for hearing loss greatly improves the baby's chances of normal language acquisition and oral speech. It is a key goal of the federal government's Healthy People 2000 health-improvement initiative.

About one-third of the infants had no known risk factors to indicate that they needed hearing assessment. Of these infants, 82 percent were cared for in the well-baby nursery. Without universal screening, these babies would likely have gone unidentified until much later in life.

The April issue of Ear and Hearing includes several papers addressing different aspects of the demonstration project, including the practicability of screening all infants before discharge, technical considerations related to testing, and characteristics of hearing-impaired infants.

Universal newborn hearing screening programs have great potential to enchance early identification and intervention for infants with hearing loss, the reports suggest. The demonstration project shows that screening programs can be successfully implemented at hospitals across a large, diverse state such as New York. By lowering the age at which infants with hearing loss are identified, universal screening can help to lessen the impact of hearing impairment as children grow and develop.

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Editors: Beth Prieve is available for interviews and can be reached at 315- 443-9614 or via e-mail at baprieve@sued.syr.edu.

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