About 1 in 1000 babies in Singapore have significant hearing impairment at birth and are at risk for delay in speech, language, intellectual, social and emotional development. Early detection followed by appropriate intervention will minimise the harmful effects on the child’s development. Without a screening test, this impairment may not be detected until much later. Thus, the aim of the screening test is to detect hearing loss early, in order to facilitate intervention and treatment as quickly as possible (preferably by 6 months of age).
The screening test is performed within the first few days after birth, and usually prior to the discharge of your baby. It is performed by trained staff and takes about 15 to 30 minutes. The screening test is safe and will not hurt your baby in any way.
Depending on the hospital, the machine used to test your baby’s hearing may be an Otoacoustic Emission (OAE) instrument or an Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR®) instrument.
For the OAE, a small ear probe is placed at the opening of your baby’s ears. The instrument makes clicking sounds and the probe listens to the responses (echoes) from the baby’s ears.
For the AABR®, three Jelly TabTM sensors are applied to the head. A soft earphone delivering clicking sounds will evoke responses from your baby which will be recorded by the instrument. The staff will inform you of the result after the test.
This means that your baby’s hearing function is normal at the time of testing. However, in some babies, hearing impairment may develop gradually as a result of recurrent ear infections, genetic factors, or chronic illnesses. Hence, you need to be vigilant and continue to monitor the behavioural responses of your child’s hearing ability according to the checklist provided in the Baby Health Booklet. If you suspect at any time that your child has a hearing problem, you should consult your doctor.
It does not necessarily mean that your baby has a hearing impairment, but further investigation will be needed. If your baby does not pass the repeat screening test, a referral will be made to the ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialists,who may decide on further confirmatory test. It is very important to attend these appointments so that any hearing impairment can be diagnosed early and precious time is not lost to help your child develop normally.