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February 09, 2004

Even best hearing screening states not good enough

The United States is making progress in its hearing screening of newborns.

Seventy percent of newborns are screened before going home from the hospital. Thirty-seven states require such screenings. Yet, 1.5 million newborns per year are not screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital.

Even in states with the most aggressive newborn hearing screening programs, such as Hawaii and Rhode Island, half of infants with hearing loss are not diagnosed until they are more than three months old. And that, according to Karl R. White, director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management at Utah State University, is too late.

Dr. White points out in Pediatrics for Parents, that even mild, unilateral hearing loss can have a substantial impact on a child's development if not identified early in life. By the third grade, children with mild unilateral hearing loss not detected before age 6 months, were 1.5 to 2 years behind their normal-hearing peers in math ability, according to a recent study. These same children were, by age 5, 1.5 to 2 years behind their peers in language development.

Dr. White recommends hearing screening of all newborns, with more extensive tests by three months of age for those who fail the initial screening and further evaluation by specialists to check for associated vision problems and any genetic component to the problem, as well. Ideally, hearing aid use should start by age 6 months.

30 out of every 10,000 newborns are affected by some type of hearing loss.

Source: Pediatrics for Parents, June 1, 2003.

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