Q: What is newborn screening and when does this take place?
By state law, all babies born in Arizona receive a newborn screening to detect 28 metabolic disorders (soon to be 29) and two point of care tests (cardiac and hearing loss) shortly after birth. This includes a hearing screening before the baby is discharged from the hospital, or within one month of release. Hearing loss is the most common disorder detected in the newborn screening program, with 1.9 out of 1,000 babies in Arizona identified with hearing loss in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.
Q: Why is newborn screening important?
For most types of genetic or metabolic disease, early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Although babies born with these disorders may appear to not have any difficulties at birth, with time, the disorder may have a devastating or fatal effect on the infant’s health and development. Early screening, detection and treatment of these disorders can, in many cases, result in on schedule growth and development.
Left undetected, hearing impairments in infants can negatively impact speech and language acquisition, academic achievement and social and emotional development. If detected before or at birth, and when early intervention begins before six months, many of the negative impacts can be diminished and even eliminated. Therefore, the sooner a child with a hearing problem is diagnosed and gets language training, hearing aids, or other treatment, the more likely that child is to meet developmental speech and language milestones.
Q: What are the next steps if a newborn “fails” the hearing screening?
Infants are screened for hearing loss and if they fail the first screening, they will receive a rescreening. If they fail the second screening, they will be referred to a pediatric audiologist for a diagnostic evaluation to determine the type and degree of hearing loss.
If a baby who has spent more than five days in the NICU fails a newborn hearing screening they are referred directly to an audiologist. If a hearing loss is confirmed, they are referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor for a medical evaluation. During this evaluation, if hearing loss is discovered in both ears, the baby is referred to the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind through the Arizona Early Intervention Program. The EAR Foundation of Arizona coordinates follow-up to help families complete the screening process by one month of age, receive a diagnosis by three months of age and are enrolled in early intervention before six months of age.
Q: What causes hearing loss in the newborn?
There are two main types of hearing loss, congenital, meaning the baby was born with it, and acquired, meaning the baby lost hearing after birth. Some parents are shocked to find out that their child can be born with a hearing problem even if they don’t have any other issues or a family history of hearing loss. Causes of hearing loss can range from cytomegalovirus (CMV), abnormal ear development due to genetics, medication used to treat an infection or unknown causes.
Written by: Michele Michaels, Hard of Hearing Specialist
Michele Michaels is the hard of hearing specialist for Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. She provides outreach, education, training, resources, empowerment, information and referrals to hard of hearing individuals in Arizona.