Hearing has a key role in the acquisition of speech, but 2 of every 1000 children are born with a hearing impairment. Early diagnosis and treatment can help these children learn to speak. In the latest issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, Martin Ptok of Hannover Medical School explores whether screening of newborns reliably detects hearing defects, the benefits of early diagnosis, and the potential risks of newborn hearing screening (Dtsch Arztebl Int; 108(25): 426-31).
Professor Ptok concludes that the current scientific evidence favors universal neonatal hearing screening (UNHS) for the early detection of hearing impairment. The greatest benefit is achieved by screening with two different tests of hearing: first measurement of otoacoustic emissions and then, in a second step, automated brainstem audiometry.
Key to the success of any UNHS program, however, is a functional monitoring system that tracks both unscreened children and those whose test results indicate they may have a hearing problem. In the latter group, the diagnosis should be confirmed and treatment instigated as soon as possible. In the author's opinion, the risks and disadvantages of UNHS are slight.