Universal neonatal hearing screening
Universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) is a strategy for early detection of permanent congenital hearing loss. It describes the use of objective testing methods (usually otoacoustic emission (OAE) testing or automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) testing) to screen the hearing of well newborns in a particular target region.
This screening separates children into two groups—those with a high index of suspicion (more likely to have permanent congenital hearing loss) and those with a low index of suspicion (less likely to have permanent congenital hearing loss). Those in the first group are referred for diagnostic testing.
Newborn hearing screening is becoming popular as it aims to reduce the age of detection for hearing loss—meaning that diagnosed children can receive early intervention, which is more effective because the brain's ability to learn language (spoken, cued, or signed) reduces as the child ages. Children born with permanent congenital hearing loss have historically performed worse educationally, had poorer language acquisition, social functioning and vocational choices than their hearing peers.
Interventions for children with permanent congenital hearing loss ranges from devices that amplify sound (e.g., hearing aids) to devices that replace the function of a damaged inner ear (cochlear implants) to communication modalities including spoken language, sign language, and Cued Speech.
Prevalence of Congenital Hearing Loss
Typically a two-stage process occurs in the actual screening of the hearing. Children are screened with either otoacoustic emissions (OAE) or automated auditory brainstem response (AABR). Children passing the test receive no further assessment. Children who fail the initial screen are usually referred for a second screening assessment either with OAE's or AABR. Children failing this second assessment will usually be sent for diagnostic assessment of their hearing. There is some variation in procedure by region and country but most follow this basic principle.
Screening personnel vary also, in some regions Audiologists are used, whereas technicians, nurses, or volunteers are used in other programmes.
Universal newborn hearing screening programmes aim to have high coverage rates (participation) and many aim to screen babies by 1 month of age, aim to complete the diagnostic process for referred babies by three months of age, and aim to begin intervention services by six months of age.
In addition to meeting these targets, one of the key challenges for newborn hearing screening programmes is to reduce 'loss to follow-up' (where a child doesn't return for the next stage of the process). The Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (US) has reported that this is a significant problem in state screening programmes in the United States and other jurisdictions. Measuring loss to follow-up is an important step in understanding and reducing it.
Targeted hearing screening
Targeted neonatal hearing screening describes the process by which only a specific subset of a population are screened (for instance those infants in the neonatal intensive care unit or with risk factors for hearing loss).
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