In 1998, Utah became one of the first states in the nation to require screening for hearing loss in infants. Over the years, this practice has made an enormous difference in the development of hundreds of newborn babies.

To perform the test, a tiny probe is inserted into the baby’s ear. The probe contains both a sound emitter and a microphone. The emitter creates a clicking sound which echoes off the eardrum. The microphone records the echoes, sending the results back to the machine which indicates whether the baby passes or fails the test.

“Even deaf babies babble and coo for about 6 months so it’s difficult to determine whether a child can hear during that stage,” says Dr. Christine Osborne.

Dr. Osborne heads the team of technicians and nurses that test all the newborn at Timpanogos Regional Hospital. She says that hearing loss can affect a child’s speech and language development, as well as their social, emotional and educational development. Spotting a problem early and getting rapid treatment are the keys to preventing those consequences. Causes vary from genetic factors, to infections in the mother during pregnancy, to something as simple as fluid in the ear.

Regardless of the cause, getting treatment for the condition right off the bat is important. Treatment options include hearing aids, or in the case of severe to profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be indicated later on. A hearing aid is the first thing that is placed on the child. Osborne says hearing loss is not the crisis it used to be because of programs that promote early identification and intervention.

“When I first started 10 years ago if we had hearing aids on by 8 months, we were doing well. But now we’re putting hearing aids on kids at 3 or 4 months, that’s awesome! And cochlear implants by 6 months! Then they have normal hearing, they are operating normally in the classroom and it does affect their emotional and social well-being. There is no doubt about it.”

In 2007, 82 Utah babies were diagnosed with hearing loss.

Learn more about the milestones of infant development.