Health News

Many parents unaware of newborn hearing screenings

Reuters Health - Many parents don’t remember if their children were tested for hearing loss at birth, a new study found.

Diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss at birth is critical to lowering the risk of impaired speech, language and literacy later in life, write the researchers in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

“When babies are born, parents are accustomed to counting fingers and toes and asking about vaccinations, but they also need to be educated to ask if their baby passed the hearing test,” said Dr. Melissa Pynnonen, the study’s lead author from the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

Hearing loss is the most common health condition at birth in the U.S. Each year about three of every 1,000 children are born with moderate to profound hearing loss, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The most intense period of speech and language development occurs during the first three years of life, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Also, the brain builds the needed pathways to understand sound during that time.

The vast majority of U.S. states now mandate newborn hearing screenings, according to the AAP.

For the new study, the researchers used May 2012 survey data from 2,144 U.S. households. Of the 1,539 households with parents and children, the mean age of children was about 10 years. More than half were born after universal hearing screenings were implemented in their state.

Overall, about 63 percent of parents could recall their youngest child being screened for hearing loss. About 6 percent said their child’s hearing wasn’t screened and about 32 percent couldn’t remember.

Of those who could remember their youngest child being screened for hearing loss, about 96 percent reported that the child passed in both ears.

“That proportion of pass is not consistent with the pass rates we would expect,” said Pynnonen. “We’re concerned that too many parent believe their child passed the test when they really didn’t.”

Among parents with children at high risk for hearing loss due to jaundice, being premature, using antibiotics for infection or being admitted to the intensive care unit, only about 69 percent remembered hearing screenings.

“This is a group of kids where we know all the kids got tested and they still can’t remember,” said Pynnonen. But, she added, many of these kids have other health conditions, which may have fogged parents’ memories.

Parents who attended at least some college, those with young children and those with children at risk for hearing loss were more likely to remember if their children underwent hearing screenings.

Getting follow-up treatment for the newborns who don’t pass their hearing screening is the missing part of care, said Dr. Alison Maresh, an expert on pediatric ear, nose and throat medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The responsibility for improving follow-up care is shared by parents and healthcare providers, said Maresh, who was not involved with the new study.

She also said parents should know that most babies who fail their hearing screenings will go on to have normal hearing.

“So don’t panic just yet if you get an abnormal result, but make sure you follow up,” she said.

SOURCE: JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, online March 10, 2016.