WMU News

WMU assists effort to screen hearing of new babies

Dec. 1, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University's Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and Bronson Children's Hospital are leading an effort to test the hearing of newborn babies in hopes of detecting problems early.

Called the Universal Infant Hearing Screening Program, the project began as a community effort just over one year ago with the help of the Kalamazoo Foundation and the support of local pediatricians, nurses and audiologists. The goal of the program is to screen all babies before they're discharged, not only those at risk for hearing loss.

"It's very crucial to identify hearing problems in the first few months of birth because the foundations for speech and language learning are laid during the first two to three years of life," says Dr. Bharti Katbamna, WMU associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, who oversees and monitors the project at Bronson. "Children who receive the benefit of hearing aids and early specialized educational attention have greater potential for speech and language learning than those who receive the intervention after this critical period has lapsed."

National studies have established an incidence of hearing loss at three to four babies per 1,000 births among newborns who are not considered to be at risk due to factors like prematurity or problems during delivery. Without a program like the Universal Infant Hearing Screening, identification of hearing problems in this normal newborn population would not occur.

Using a state-of-the-art technology to detect what are known as "otoacoustic emissions," the procedure measures sounds that are produced by the ear when it is stimulated with a series of tones. The sounds originate from the inner ear and are also known as cochlear echoes.

"A small loudspeaker-microphone assembly is placed in the baby's ear canal to measure these echoes," says Teresa B. Crumpton, WMU audiologist who assists with the program. "The loudspeaker presents a series of sounds and the microphone picks up the resulting echoes."

The presence of echoes indicates a healthy inner ear and normal hearing. Weak or non-existent echoes suggest the need for follow-up tests to rule out or quantify hearing loss.

Current results of the hearing screening program at Bronson Children's Hospital indicate 150 to 180 of the 3,000 newborns tested each year require further testing. Bronson and WMU are currently working on initiatives to foster community awareness and education to ensure adequate follow-up testing of these babies.

The Universal Infant Hearing Screening Program is consistent with the recommendations of the National Institutes of Health. Similar programs exist or are under way in Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, Lansing and other communities around the state.

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