The hearing health and general wellbeing of your newborn baby is really important to you. An enormous amount of information is being gathered and processed by your little one and much of that input comes through hearing. The ability to identify hearing loss in young children can play a crucial role in enabling a child to develop a balanced outlook, good social skills, and a healthy self-esteem.


The American Joint Committee on Infant Hearing Loss identified the first six months of life as critical for applying effective intervention and rehabilitation of infants with hearing loss.[1] If you suspect your baby has some hearing difficulties it is imperative to identify those issues and provide some effective tools to support his or her hearing, speech development, and ongoing learning.


Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to know what is happening inside their ears, even for the experts. Conventional and traditional tests rely on the client’s ability to respond and give reasonably objective feedback. This is problematic with newborns as there is no way to gauge a newborn’s responses definitively.


Auditory Brainstem Response Test (ABR)

The Auditory Brainstem Response Test (ABR) offers a clearer picture of the infant’s hearing because it does not rely on the patient’s verbal feedback. Instead, the ABR test measures the response directly from the patient’s nervous system. The patient does not even need to be awake. In fact, it is better if the child is asleep. When sounds enter the ear, the movement of tiny hairs sends impulses along the auditory nerve to the brain. It is these nerve responses that the ABR test measures. For this reason, ABR testing is sometimes called Brain Stem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) testing.


ABR—how is the test administered?

The entire process is completely safe and painless. A number of small electrodes are placed on the child’s head. Earphones feed a wide range of sound frequencies (clicks and hisses) into the child’s ears and the electrodes record the subtle changes in the brainwave responses from the auditory nerves centred in the brainstem.


This data is fed back into a specialized computer and software programme where the audiologist can study the readout and analyse the results. It’s a little like an electrician testing the wiring in your house. The electrician doesn’t need to see the wiring to identify a problem as the voltmeter registers the electronic activity and determines where there are issues.


For children between the ages of 6 months and 7 years, anaesthesia is recommended to ensure the child remains relaxed and still. The test itself will take around one hour to one and a half hours.


What can the ABR test show?

The highly specialized equipment has a wide response range of 400 -8,000 Hz. This expansive range and sensitivity provides the audiologist with a very detailed picture of every level of the child’s hearing. ABR testing is particularly effective for analysing and comparing right and left vestibular function. Vestibular function plays a crucial role in processing sound for learning, motor skills, and balance.


ABR testing also provides a cost effective tool for screening those older patients who have suspected acoustic neuromas. An acoustic neuroma is a non-malignant growth on the vestibulocochlear nerve. These grow very slowly and the patient may attribute the progressive symptoms of hearing loss, loss of balance, headaches and confusion to old age.


The ABR test is a screening test. It does not prove that you or your child has hearing loss but it is an effective tool that allows your audiologist to screen those who do need to undergo other testing procedures.


Where can I get an ABR test?

The House of Hearing has long recognized the need for ABR testing to be made more widely available and we are proud to announce the acquisition of the most advanced ABR testing equipment and programme. This has been installed in a purpose built testing facility at the Mackenzie Health Hospital. This convenient location enables us to provide the expert data analysis and the tools needed to identify any hearing issues your child may have. Remember, early detection is the key to obtaining the best possible outcomes for your child.


Come and visit us at Let us show you how we can help you get the best outcomes for your loved ones.

[1] Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, American Academy of Paediatrics. Pediatrics 70: 496-7, 1982.

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