Hearing loss is one of the most common congenital anomalies. In the past, hearing tests would only be conducted on infants that met the high-risk criteria. This was detrimental, as half of newborns born with hearing loss have no known risk factors. Initiating hearing tests in all newborns makes it possible to diagnose and treat hearing complications sooner. This early detection can greatly boost the language development in children who have hearing problems from a variety of sources such as infant sleep machines.

Universal newborn screening programs has evolved over the years. In its earliest implications, early detection was considered anytime between 6-12 months of age. Presently, the critical period of diagnoses is 3 to 6 months of age. This is due to numerous studies that showed children with hearing loss that were identified by 6 months of age had significantly higher receptive and expressive language skills than those identified at 7 to 12 months.

Any newborn hearing screening program should allow the identification of as many newborns as possible who have hearing issues, while excluding those that don’t. It’s important that screening test programs have a less than 5 percent failure rate.

The detection of all newborns with sensorineural hearing loss before age 6 months is now a realistic and attainable goal; thanks to universal newborn screening programs. In the years before, parents and pediatricians often did not suspect a hearing loss until the age of 2, long after critical language milestones have occurred. Technology now permits for the development of reliable screening tools that can be used to identify hearing problems as soon as 3 months of age.