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Understanding Hearing Tests for Children

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Hearing tests form part of your child's routine healthcare schedule, but they can also be performed when your baby has been exposed to an infection in the womb or if your child has had a virus that can cause damage to any part of their ears. The tests used for babies and young children differ from adult hearing tests and are designed to give accurate readings when your child is not yet verbal or doesn't have the attention span to endure an adult test. Here's an overview of the different types of hearing tests for children.

Testing Hearing in Babies

There are two types of hearing test that can be used to assess babies and your child doesn't even need to be awake to undergo these tests. The first test, known as optoacoustic emission screening, involves placing a small, soft plug in your baby's ear that transmits audible clicks. If your baby's inner ears are detecting these clicking noises they will produce a sound that's inaudible to those around, but the flexible plug can detect this sound and transfer it to a graph for interpretation.

The second test, known as automated auditory brainstem response, is similar to optoacoustic emission screening, but in addition to the flexible plugs placed inside your baby's ears, electrodes are placed on their scalp. This test has the added benefit of assessing the response of your child's auditory nerve when they hear clicking noises from the flexible plug and is a good indicator of whether your baby's brain is receiving sounds from their inner ear.

Testing Hearing in Infants & Toddlers

Visual reinforcement audiometry is a test that can be utilised when a young child is able to turn their head in response to sound. It's generally used from when a child can sit up unaided until they are around two years old. Your child will sit with you in a soundproof booth and a hearing nurse or audiologist will play sounds through speakers in different areas of the booth.

Your child should turn their head toward the sound and when they do they will be rewarded with a visual stimulus such as a dancing stuffed toy, which will encourage them to keep responding each time they hear a sound.

Toddlers are tested with a system that uses praise to encourage continued response to behavioural tasks. The test, known as play audiometry, involves teaching the child to do something specific each time they hear a noise. For example, they could be asked to put a block into a container each time they hear a noise such as a beep. When they respond correctly, you'll be asked to give them lots of praise to encourage them to stay engaged with the game.

The results of your child's hearing test will be displayed on a graph known as an audiogram. The graph will chart the softest sounds your child can hear at varying pitches and the results for both ears should be very similar. If you child's hearing falls below the normal hearing threshold or if one ear has a different hearing capacity to the other, the audiologist may want to repeat the test to confirm the diagnosis.

They will then recommend a treatment plan, which may include being fitted for hearing aids to amplify sounds or a cochlear implant to bypass their ears altogether if there is a problem with their inner ears that's preventing sound reaching their auditory nerve.

Children's hearing tests are painless and can put your mind at rest if you're concerned your child isn't responding to sound consistently. If you have any concerns, schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist such as Advanced Hearing Care.