Thursday, February 14, 2019

Alberta newborns eligible for quick, pain-free hearing test

Alberta Health Services - All newborns in the province are now eligible for a quick and pain-free test to screen for permanent hearing loss with the launch of an Alberta Health Services (AHS) screening program.  Alberta’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program aims to screen newborns by one month of age, although parents can have their child screened up to 90 days after birth. Babies who aren’t screened before leaving hospital, or born at a site where screening isn’t offered, can be tested at a community-based screening site.

“This program speaks to the importance of providing our newest Albertans with the best possible start in life,” says Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health. “The new hearing screening program will minimize the effects of hearing loss on babies by ensuring families receive the treatment and follow-up support they need. This is another example of our government’s work protecting public healthcare and fighting for the needs of children and families.”

Prior to the program, newborn hearing screening was offered in a small number of sites and geographic areas in Alberta. Without screening, there are no obvious signs early on to tell if an infant has hearing loss and the average age of diagnosis is 24 months. Even if a baby responds to sounds, they many not hear all sounds well enough to develop language. Hearing screening is the best way to tell if a baby might have hearing loss.

“It is important for babies to have their hearing screened as early as possible, ideally by one month of age,” says Tanis Howarth, Director of Provincial Audiology. ”The earlier we can identify hearing loss, the earlier we can offer intervention services and support language development.”

More than 51,500 babies were born in Alberta last year. Every year, typically between 110 and 160 babies are born with permanent hearing loss.

“It’s surprising to many people that permanent hearing loss is one of the most common conditions found in newborns,” says Dr. Huiming Yang, Provincial Medical Officer of Health with Healthy Living and Medical Director of Screening Programs. “Over half of all babies with this condition are healthy and have no family history of hearing loss.”

The screening test involves soft sounds played into a baby’s ears as the child is sleeping or quiet. A computer measures how well the ears respond to the sound. The service is offered free of charge in all 13 neonatal intensive care units in the province, as well as in postpartum units at most hospitals with more than 200 births per year and many community sites.

“We are proud to be able to offer this important service to newborns and their families,” says Peter MacKinnon, Senior Program Officer of Population, Public and Indigenous Health.

“Thanks to the combined support of the Alberta Government and the collaborative efforts of numerous Alberta Health Services staff, Alberta’s EHDI Program will have a big impact on the lives of many babies and their families."

The purpose of the hearing screening is to determine how well a baby is hearing on the day of the test and whether further testing is required.

“From birth, the ability to communicate is important,” says Howarth. “Language, whether spoken or signed, is needed to aid in a child’s overall development. When a baby is born deaf or hard of hearing, their process for developing language is delayed, impacting the child and their family.”

Babies who do not pass the hearing screening are sent for a specialized hearing test to rule out or confirm permanent hearing loss, and determine its severity: mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Visit for more information about Alberta’s EHDI Program.

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