All newborn babies are screened for hearing loss prior to being discharged from the hospital. This program is provided by the Division of Audiology and is overseen by an audiologist. Newborn hearing screening technicians are trained by audiologists to administer the test. They are not trained to interpret the test beyond an automated pass or refer result or to answer questions related to hearing, but they will have contact information on hand should you have any questions related to the testing, results, recommendations, or follow up.
Frequently asked Questions
What happens during a hearing screening?
It is important that both the baby and the environment are quiet for the hearing screening. The screener may ask your extended family members and/or small children to step outside the room for a few minutes. When the test is completed, the screener will be able to tell you the results.
The first stage screening for a healthy baby born without complications is completed using Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE). For this test, the newborn hearing screening technician will insert a small plug into your baby’s ear canal. Your baby will hear a soft sound for a few minutes. The technician will not be looking for any response from your baby, but will be able to obtain the result from the equipment. After the first ear is tested, the screener will repeat the process for the second ear. If your baby does not pass the screening using this method of testing, a second stage screening will be performed called Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR). This testing requires different equipment setup and looks at a different part of the hearing mechanism, but is also able to give us the information we need to screen your baby’s hearing.
If both ears pass the screening, you will receive the written results to take home with you. If your baby doesn’t pass one or both ears, the screener will most likely return prior to discharge to attempt the testing again. If on the day of discharge your baby has not passed the screening for both ears, you will be asked to schedule an appointment with our audiology clinic within 2 to 4 weeks to repeat the screening at that time. This appointment is considered a continuation of the initial screening and will be completed at no additional charge.
Does my baby get a hearing screening in the NICU?
If your baby is admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after birth, your baby will likely receive his or her hearing screening in that location. If your baby is transferred temporarily to the NICU for an overnight stay or for just a few hours, he or she will probably have the hearing screening with you in the hospital room.
Babies admitted to the NICU can be at a higher risk for hearing problems as a result of the complications that led to the admission or intervention taken while there. Because of this, we begin our screening with the AABR screening. Every baby admitted to the NICU that remains there for more than 48 hours must have an AABR screening. If the baby does not pass the AABR screening, the OAE screening will be completed as a second stage. (Please refer to the section “What happens during a hearing screening?” for descriptions of these tests). In addition, even if your baby passes the screening at birth, we recommend that your baby return to our Audiology clinic at 1 year of age for a full audiologic assessment to rule out any hearing problems that may have developed after discharge.
If your baby was in the NICU and remained there for more than 48 hours and either did not receive an AABR screening or did not pass the screening before going home, an outpatient AABR screening can be scheduled in our audiology clinic. The appointment will be scheduled for one hour and it is absolutely necessary that your baby sleeps during the testing. We recommend that you bring your baby hungry and tired to the appointment and try not to let the baby fall asleep in the car on the way over. We will get you comfortably set up in the testing room, get the baby prepared for the screening, and then give you time to feed and settle the baby. The screening will begin when the baby falls asleep.
Who finds out about the screening results?
At the time of the screening, the results are documented in the baby’s inpatient chart so that the medical team will be aware of the findings. In addition, because your baby was born in D.C., the D.C. Department of Health is notified of the results. If your family resides outside of the district in MD or VA, that state will be notified of the results as well. If your baby does not pass the screening in the hospital and you do not follow up with an outpatient screening, the state of residence will be notified and will most likely follow up with you.
You are not required to return to MedStar Georgetown for the outpatient screening but we appreciate you sharing the results of the outpatient screening with us so that we can avoid unneeded reporting of your family for lost to follow up to the Department of Health. You may call The Division of Audiology and ask to speak with the Newborn Hearing Screening Coordinator to report these results.
Additional questions related to newborn hearing screening at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital can be directed to Jamie H. Angus, AuD, CCC-A.
Dr. Angus is currently our Newborn Hearing Screening Coordinator and can be reached at: 202-944-5300.