06 January 2011

Hearing screening in children - the earlier, the better

Screening for hearing problems within the first weeks of life benefits children.

Newborn hearing screening is associated with better developmental outcomes at ages 3 to 5 years among children with permanent childhood hearing impairment when compared to earlier methods, a Dutch study shows.

As in many other countries, The Netherlands has embraced universal hearing screening among their newborns. A research team from the Leiden University Medical Centre took advantage of the natural diversity of screening methods during the transition from the earlier method to newborn hearing screenings to compare the outcomes of the two screening methods.

Compared to distraction screening (a behavioural test conducted around the age of 9 months), the researchers found that newborn screening led to more spoken and fewer signed words, as well as better social development and gross motor development at 3 to 5 years of age. The children who had a newborn hearing screening also scored higher on measures of overall quality of life.

Among children undergoing newborn screening, fewer than one (0.78) of every 1,000 were diagnosed with hearing loss. Similarly, fewer than one (0.73) of every 1,000 babies were diagnosed using the distraction hearing test, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About the study

The researchers analysed the outcomes of nearly 600,000 Dutch babies born between 2003 and 2005. 335,560 children were born in a newborn hearing screening region and 234,826 children in a distraction hearing screening region. At follow-up, 263 children in newborn hearing screening regions and 171 children in distraction hearing screening regions had been diagnosed with permanent childhood hearing impairment. 301 children (69.4%) participated in analysis of general performance measures.

Sources: Journal of the American Medical Association and Reuters Health

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