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So Little Ears Can Hear

Jan 21, 2007 5:00 PM

Early diagnosis of hearing impairment is critical to ensure that children don't fall behind in speech and language development. For infants with hearing problems, that magical exploration of the world around them is hampered. First words are slow in coming; following directions is difficult.

Utah was one of the first states to mandate that all hospitals perform newborn hearing screenings; now all but six states require them. But the screenings aren't foolproof. Often they can fail to distinguish major hearing problems suffered by three of every 1,000 newborns from minor disorders, such as fluid blockage, that may disappear in a few days.

A new test being evaluated by the University of Utah College of Health may improve screening accuracy. Through a $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Lisa L. Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of audiology, is testing a device designed to identify profound hearing problems related to the middle ear. Known as the wideband Middle Ear Power Analyzer, the device measures how much acoustic energy is reflected and absorbed in the middle ear, providing more accurate results and reducing the number of false positives.

Hunter has had success with the analyzer in clinical studies with toddlers and hopes for similar results with infants. "It's a very quick test," she said. "It takes just a few seconds to get a reading. There is no pressure in the ear like there was with the older tests, and children seem to tolerate it very well."

Over the next two years, Hunter and her research assistant, audiology graduate student Adrienne Jackson, will enroll 500 newborns into the study.

More children are born with hearing loss than with Down's syndrome or spina bifida. Through grassroots efforts over the last four years, more than 95 percent of newborns are being screened, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Prior to this change, the average age for a hearing screening was 2 years old, well into a child's formative years.

Read more articles like this at Health Sciences Report.

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