Sixty-five percent of American babies are tested for hearing loss, up from 25% just two years ago, says a new state-by-state report.
Utah State University statistician Karl White, who conducted the research for the Campaign for Hearing Health, says 34 states now require infant hearing tests. "Screening the babies is relatively straightforward, and because of that, more and more states are coming on board," he says. "Within the next two to three years, I would expect all babies to be screened."
But it's up to parents to make sure that happens, says campaign president Elizabeth Thorpe. "We're hoping new parents can take hearing health care into their own hands and make sure their baby's hearing is tested before they leave the hospital," she says.
Two tests are available, ranging in cost from $15 to $50. The tests painlessly detect response, either in the brain or ear canal, to sound. "Most babies sleep right through them," she says.
Each year, more than 12,000 American babies are born with hearing loss, including 4,000 who are profoundly deaf, says Thorpe, making hearing impairment the most common birth defect in the USA.
Often, it goes undetected for years, contributing to delays in learning and development and making treatment options more difficult. "Having this one test and being able to see an audiologist early makes a lot of economic sense," Thorpe says.
The Campaign for Hearing Health today issues its "report card," which assesses the status of infant hearing testing in each state. The full report is on the Web at www.hearinghealth.net.
Some of the report's highlights:
25 states screen 90% of babies or more, seven screen at least 70% and 13 plus Washington, D.C., screen at least 35%. All have systems to assure quality, training and follow-up.
Five states screen fewer than 35% of babies: California, which screens 19%; Nevada, 31%; New York, 16%; Ohio, 22% and Vermont, 30%.
Legislation on universal hearing screening policies is pending in Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington.
"The challenge now," White says, "is to make sure those babies (in whom hearing loss is detected) get the follow-up diagnostic work they need."
About 1% to 2% of babies screened are sent for evaluation to determine the degree and type of hearing loss, and to provide hearing aids or other assistance, White says. But studies show that for about 30% to 50% of babies referred for diagnostic evaluation, researchers found no record of whether they received it.
White says the federal government has begun to fund state efforts to provide follow-up, "but it's just getting underway, and more resources are needed."
© 2001, USA Today
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