Newborn hearing screening

September 10, 2015

Nouveau poupon

Did you know that deafness is a congenital disorder affecting one to three newborns of every thousand?

Luckily, newborn hearing screening can detect hearing impairment just hours after birth. Hearing screening ensures that children with hearing loss are diagnosed and fitted with hearing aids by their sixth month of life, for optimal development.

Often invisible, deafness is a sensory disability with major consequences on a newborn’s development. It endangers brain plasticity (the brain’s capacity to modify neuronal networks according to life experiences), language acquisition, and the ability to communicate, socialize, and learn.

Hearing screening in newborns

Hearing screening is done shortly after birth using otoacoustic emissions (OAEs). It is completely painless. A probe is inserted into the infant’s ear, and the cochlea’s responses to sound stimulation (OAEs) are recorded.

It is a simple and quick objective test when the conditions are right. It must be carried out in a quiet environment, because background noise (the infant’s movements, sucking or crying noises) might extend the duration of the test and hinder measurement, or make testing impossible in some cases. For these reasons, it is best to carry out the test when the baby is asleep.

The results: What they actually tell us

Hearing screening results will indicate if the child has passed or failed, but not the degree, nature, or origin of hearing loss. Based on the results or risk factors for deafness, the audiologist will recommend further investigation if necessary.

The scope of the test is limited, as it does not detect very mild or mild hearing loss (below 30 to 40 decibel HL), progressive or late hearing loss, or auditory neuropathy.

Screening only gives an overview of the situation. Parents should monitor their child’s growth and development closely, even if the hearing screening did not detect a problem.

Systematic hearing screening

In the past 10 years, hearing screening has become increasingly widespread in North America, Europe, and most industrialized countries elsewhere.

In Quebec, only a few hospitals offer systematic newborn hearing screening (before the baby is released from the hospital), while at other hospitals, only babies with risk factors (e.g., family history of deafness, prematurity, low birth rate, or severe jaundice) are screened.

For more details on hearing screening in newborns, or to have your baby’s hearing checked, consult an audiologist.

Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), (2007). “Le dépistage de la surdité chez le nouveau-né : Évaluation des avantages, des inconvénients et des coûts de son implantation au Québec.” Online:
Direction des communications, Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (2012). “Programme québécois de dépistage de la surdité chez les nouveau-nés.” Online:
PATEL, H. and M. Feldman (2011). “Universal newborn hearing screening.” Canadian Paediatric Society (2011). Online: