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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Hearing Loss

Screening Newborns

Did you hear?

98% of newborns in the U.S. are screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital.

Research improves the quality of life of people with hearing loss, starting with the day they are born.

12,000 babies are born deaf or hard of hearing each year in the United States.

Biomedical discoveries supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) laid the foundation for states to take action to ensure children are screened and treated early for hearing loss. Collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and other national organizations were key to success.

  • NIDCD research reveals the basic mechanisms of how we hear.
  • NIDCD research develops and improves technology for hearing devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
  • NIDCD research finds genetic causes of profound hearing loss and deafness, which account for most cases.

Screening Newborns' Hearing Now Standard

In 1993, children born in the U.S. were screened for hearing loss before being discharged only if they were at risk, and half of those who were eventually found to have profound hearing loss were missed until they were older. At a landmark NIH consensus development conference, experts endorsed the screening of all newborns for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. Combined with similar recommendations by the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, and further research and workshops supported by the NIDCD, universal newborn hearing screening began in 1999, when President Clinton signed the Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act, authorizing the coordination and funding of statewide newborn and infant hearing screening programs. In December 2010, President Obama expanded the funding to include diagnostic services. Now, about 98 percent of all U.S. newborns are screened for hearing loss prior to discharge from the hospital, providing them with much greater opportunities for early and life-changing care.

The NIDCD has many resources in English and in Spanish for parents and caregivers about hearing and screening for children and devices that can help, including:

  • It's Important to Have Your Baby's Hearing Screened
  • What to Do if Your Baby's Screening Reveals a Possible Hearing Problem
  • Your Baby's Hearing and Communicative Development Checklist
  • Hearing Aids
  • Cochlear Implants—surgically implanted hearing devices

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Newborn screening timeline
Today Newborn Screening timeline
3.8 million newborns are screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. Early interventions and treatments (hearing aids, cochlear implants, sign language, cued speech) Better speech, language, social skills, job opportunities, less need for costly state-run programs.
2010 98% of newborns are screened annually.
2010 President Obama signs the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act of 2010, expanding funding to include diagnostic services.
2000 NIDCD research leads to two gold-standard tests for hearing loss in infants, which are still in use today.
1999 NIDCD research explores intervention strategies for children with hearing loss.
1999 President Clinton signs the Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act, authorizing support for statewide screening programs.
1998 NIDCD research demonstrates the need for both newborn hearing screening and early intervention, which is crucial for speech and language development.
1997 The NIH convenes an expert panel, which recommends standard newborn hearing screening methods for state programs.
1993 At an NIH consensus conference, experts endorse universal newborn hearing screening.
1993 About 1 in 10 newborns are screened for hearing loss.
Only newborns at high risk are screened, which misses 50% of children who are eventually diagnosed with severe hearing loss
Only 8% of babies with congenital hearing loss are diagnosed by their first birthday
47% of children with congenital hearing loss are not diagnosed until their third birthday or later.

Spring 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 1 Page 10-11